Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I have finally gotten around to checking off a book I’ve been excited to read: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

I’ve loved Bradbury since I read “The Pedestrian” in high school and was the only person in class who got “the point.” And just from reading that short story, Bradbury made my list of favorite authors.

The only other thing I have read by since (also in high school) was “There Will Come Soft Rains”—a great short story about an automated house living on after all of its inhabitants have died.

The only thing I’ve read by Bradbury that I didn’t love was “A Sound of Thunder,” about a time traveler who changes everything by stepping on a butterfly. I might like it better if I read it now, but when it was assigned in school, I just couldn’t get through it. I had to read it out loud to my dad.

Anyway, I’ve had Fahrenheit 451 on my “to-be-read” list for something like four years, at least. But I always manage to not read it: there’s another book in a series I love, there’s something I’ve found that I just have to read right now, or sometimes I just don’t feel like reading and I want to do anything else.

In a moment of impulse, I bought the book on my Kindle app. I can be a shopaholic, and when that hits, instant-gratification is the best thing for me. I just didn’t want to wait for my two-day shipping to get the book here.

Naturally, I just let it sit there. For like two weeks.

Then, I was talking to a friend who recently read it and I decided to put a pause on the book I was reading and start Fahrenheit 451 instead.

I’m really glad I did.

I’ve been sitting on this book for a couple of weeks, at least. It’s one of those books that require a lot of thinking, a lot of mulling over. Not because it is complicated, really, but because it is provocative.

What would the world be like if books were banned? And not in the some parents don’t want them read, so the schools remove them from the libraries sense.

Personally, I find the world that Montag lives in to be quite horrifying. It is not so different from our world today, really. Giant TVs display families and friends that we know more about than the people living with us. It is all too easy to forget our own lives and become despondent about anything other than the plot of whatever show we happen to be invest in.

We know more about celebrities lives than our neighbors’, which is not to say that we should be more interested in our neighbors, only that we don’t really know the people around us anymore.

All of this is generalizing, of course. Because there are people out there who resist the culture that Bradbury so keenly predicted.

F41 is a quick and entangling read. Even though Montag, the narrator, is the most likable character of those in the book, he’s not necessarily a hero. He has some problems. I was (maybe unnecessarily) unhappy with him when he makes Mrs. Phelps cry.

At first it’s just the poem, which another of them women calls “silly words” (97), but it’s much more than that. Montag can’t even fathom her reaction, and he says something that made me cringe, not only for Mrs. Bowles but also for Montag:

“‘Go home and think of your first husband divorced and your second husband killed in a jet and your third husband blowing his brains out, go home and think of the dozen abortions you’ve had, go home and think of that and your damn Caesarean sections, too, and your children who hate your guts! Go home and think how it all happened and what did you ever do to stop it? Go home, go home!’” (97).

It’s such a sad interaction for both parties. Montag is upset because she can’t process or consider anything that makes her feel, and she’s upset because the poem he reads makes her feel. It’s a lose-lose situation. Even though I think I’m supposed to empathize with Montag here, the exchange makes me pity Mrs. Bowles, who clearly cannot deal with her life and so chooses to ignore all of its horrors. But Mrs. Bowles—like Millie and Mrs. Phelps—is really just a product of the culture, and it’s hard to blame her for that.

Even though I sometimes felt frustrated with Montag, I didn’t dislike him enough to quit reading. And sometimes, there were some really critical insights that overwhelmed me. For example, when Montag finally meets up with other Book Sympathizers, he tells us, “The most important thing we had to pound into ourselves is that we were not important, we mustn’t be pedants; we were not to feel superior to anyone else in the world. We’re nothing more than a dust jacket for books, of no significance otherwise” (146). Wouldn’t it be something amazing if more people in today’s society thought about this for just five minutes a day? We spend so much time making ourselves feel special, making ourselves feel superior, that we’re often in a hopeless state of one-upmanship. This is not to say that no one is special, or that we all shouldn’t feel special at times. But haven’t you ever been in a situation where you wanted to shout “No! you are not special!”

By the end of the book, Montag is with a group of likeminded people, all of whom carry a specific book in their memories. This way, the books can’t be taken away from them, and when the world is ready for them again, they can be passed on. But what is really telling is when one of these Sympathizers size, “So long as the vast population doesn’t wander about quoting the Magna Carta and the Constitution, it’s all right” (147). It seems sad to think that there would be a society that didn’t know the Magna Carta and the Constitution. . .but, then again, how many of the common citizens of the US could actually do that today?

Rating: 4/5 Stars I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to others, but I wish there were some better female characters. Bradbury, I suppose, is also a product of his time.

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