Ever burned a book? For me, it’s of those actions that I don’t cross my mind. Like deliberately tripping a blind person or pushing a pram down the stairs for kicks – it’s stuff that anyone with a moral compass wouldn’t think of doing. So picking up Fahrenheit 451 was a new sort of experience. Bradbury’s novel is set in a world that burns books because they’re forbidden. This novel is one of those on the dystopia world “must-reads” that I’ve known about but never picked up until this year. I suppose it’s my mood of the moment given the direction the US government is heading.
I can say I enjoyed the world in which the story takes place, but I really disliked the characters. The world is a fully realised nightmare on prozac: information levelled at the population with the sole aim to keep them distracted to maintain a happy kind of medium. Bread and circuses kind of deal. In this world, it’s an extremely empty happiness devoid of any purpose, which in turn, renders existence meaningless. The people in this world do nothing else but constantly consume the media, bombarded left, right and centre with simulation. Bradbury describes this state in such a way that I find quite unsettling because for me, the reader in 2017, it’s an fairly accurate description of how easy it is to find and stay distracted.
Books in this world are outlawed because they have the potential to make people think and thus, essentially become unhappy. Remaining books that are found are immediately burned. The story takes place in a world that’s at war but it’s like a passing thought amidst the placid and ignorant population. It’s in the best interests for people to stay happy and not think about what happening outside the bubbles. So, books are banned. An oversimplification of the context (I know), but that’s the general gist since there are far better essays / articles out there that properly deconstruct this world.
I suppose I didn’t like the story because I found myself sympathising with Mildred, the protagonist’s wife, who was more concerned with keeping her inner void at bay than being curious about where the act of reading books could take her. She’s a shell of a person – plastic and not really there. She has all the trappings of a very comfortable life that has no purpose. I really wanted her to “wake up” (in a very real sense) and do something. Do anything, but as the story progressed I became so frustrated because it was clear she actively chooses to remain as she is. The potential of facing the truth of this nothingness is represented in books and it’s disappointing, though not surprising, that she chose her path. I wasn’t rooting for her because I liked her – she is an awful person, but I think maybe, on some level, she reminds me of a potential, future kind of existence should I take the yearning for distraction to the extreme. I have complicated feelings about this book, which means I’ll probably need to re-read it later.
As ever, your thoughts and recommendations in the comments are welcomed!
Respective images via Senses of Cinema (which gives an excellent analysis of the film version of this book) and Messy Time Traveller Tumbler (the original image is a gif but is presented here as an image).