I won’t succeed this year in finishing the Back-to-the-Classics challenge and I’m very annoyed with myself. I had such good intentions starting out. But I had to get at least halfway through, so I decided to read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, as my twentieth-century classic. I’ve heard that this is one of those books that true bibliophiles should read. And my kids studied it in school, making it even more imperative that I read it.
I knew a few things going in. 1) 451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paper (books) will burn. In this futurist/dystopic story, the protagonist, Montag, is a book burner until he sees the light. And 2) the story doesn’t end well.
I dived in.
Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books and the houses of those who harbor the contraband. He takes a perverse pleasure in his job, but he’s discontent. His wife, wholly absorbed by the emptiness of the world she lives in, is also miserable but too numbed to realize it. One day, Montag meets a teenage girl who refuses to participate in the mass numbing. It starts him thinking. Then, while burning a house along with its occupant, Montag steals one of the books he is supposed to destroy. This may not be the first time he has done this. But this time, it’s transformative. He starts reading.
While this awakens Montag, it sets in motion a series of tragedies for those around him. Or maybe he releases them from the tragedy of their lives. But he can no longer go on as he did.
Fahrenheit 451 is a fast read and there are parts that are vividly exciting. There is no subtlety to the message, but subtlety is not really needed. It’s one of those dystopias that leads a reader to draw parallels with what is happening today–and cringe.