Originally published as a mass market edition in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 is a true treasure of American literature. I last read it when I was young. It was a pleasure, in these tumultuous times, to read it again. Fahrenheit 451 is ageless, speaking to us today. The threat of oppression, suppression and censorship dangles like Damocles Sword over every generation.
“How many of you are there?”
“Thousands on the roads, the abandoned rail-tracks, tonight, bums on the outside, libraries inside.”
Guy Montag was a fireman but not as we know fireman. The virtue of putting out fires and saving lives has long been forgotten on this world. Firemen create fires. Spraying kerosene from brass nozzles, lighting the matches, indifferent to suffering of those labeled criminals whose homes they torch. Those who possess books must be prosecuted.
The world moves fast, too fast, and no one has time to read a billboard unless it stretches miles long. There is a coming war but few take time to notice, few care.
Guy Montag is surprised and enamored one evening by a strolling seventeen year old girl he meets in the streets who babbles on about moonlight, rose gardens, sunrises and dew on the morning grass. Such expressions of happiness and joy, such speech about books and free thought is considered mad and dangerous in these times, especially when speaking with a fireman. She continues to be herself anyway, oblivious to the trouble it could bring to her.
Her parting question to him, unsettles him most. “Are you happy?”
Of course he’s happy, or so he tries to convince himself. He’s a married man with a good career and a nice home.
Guy Montag goes home that night and we learn it is really not the place he wants to be. His wife, Mildred, is rather lifeless, ‘her face like a snow-covered island.‘ She is caught up in entertainment, in a world of tv screens the size of their walls, seashells in her ears, piping in music and talk, stories played out by others.
Guy Montage decides he can and must endure this ‘good life’ but speaking to others and really hearing what they say, having his conscience open, he realizes how dark the world is, people bored with life, doing dangerous things that result in death, shootings and suicide. All these advancements in their society and still so many unhappy.
‘Is there happiness to be found in books?’
At the firehouse, Guy Montag asks too many questions of his chief and the other firemen. They suspect he is not pleased with his duties, but this is not an uncommon stumbling-stone for Firemen. Firemen often go through a phase when they are curious about books and the things they are doing but they do wise up sooner or later.
The bell rings and the Firemen rush off to a three-story home in an ancient part of the city. The suspect is an elderly woman with books in her attic.
The Firemen enter and rips the books down, throwing them everywhere to the dismay of the elderly woman. She watches sadly as they spray their kerosene everywhere.
Guy Montage tries to urge the woman to leave her home but she has a match of her own. The Firemen leave the kerosene soaked house and the woman steps out on the porch, eyeing her accusers. And then she strikes the match.
Guy Montag has a crisis of conscience. Here he begins his quest, his crusade. He secretly confiscates some books but can’t make heads or tails of them. He then seeks out a man who he believes can help him better understand. He knows this will prove dangerous but doesn’t care at this point.
Soon it is he that is on the run, his life in tatters, his home burnt, his life turned upside down.
If you’ve never read this book, I highly recommend it. It is troubling and chilling and an honest look into what happens when one questions the way things are and then acts on it. It is a deeper look into the humanity and inhumanity of mankind. 5 stars!
Allen M Werner is the author of the epic fantasy series, The Crystal Crux
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