Friday, 27 May 2011

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

The system was simple. Everyone understood it. Books were for burning, along with the houses in which they were hidden.

Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires. And he enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs or the joy of watching pages consumed by flames, never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid. Then Guy met a professor who told him of a future in which people could think. And Guy Montag suddenly realized what he had to do

After reading so many YA novels lately I had a craving to switch back to some adult fiction for a while. Although my dad's old copy of Fahrenheit 451 has been sitting on our family bookshelf for at least ten years, I have sadly never given myself the opportunity to read it until now. Considering that I have been gorging myself with so much of the new dystopian fiction coming out lately, it seemed only right to return to some of the classic novels which really formed the framework for the genre.

In many ways the world which Fahrenheit 451 creates is that of my deepest and darkest nightmares. A world where books are not only banned but confiscated and burned is one that I shudder to imagine. The greatest irony I found was the fact that it is firemen, the very people who in today's society prevent fires, that are given this task of censorship through the igniting of flames.

Not only is Fahrenheit 451 ironic, but it is overflowing with both rich symbolism and conversation. One of my favourite symbolisms in the book is that of the phoenix. The phoenix's connection to the image of fire through its tendency to die by burning and be reborn from its ashes is extremely effective at demonstrating humanity's constant cycle of death and resurrection. According to one of the characters named Granger, the symbolism of the phoenix is tied to man's ability to learn from his mistakes so that he does not repeat history.

One of my all time favourite scenes from Fahrenheit 451, however, is the one in which Granger reveals to Montag that his group, along with others throughout the country, carry various works of literature in their minds, so that when humanity is prepared to accept books again, they may be transcribed back onto paper:
"Would you like, someday, Montag, to read Plato's Republic?"  
"Of course!"
"I am Plato's Republic. Like to read Marcus Aurelius? Mr. Simmons is Marcus."
"How do you do?" said Mr. Simmons.
"Hello," said Montag.
"I want you to meet Jonathan Swift, the author of that evil political book, Gulliver's Travels! And this other fellow is Charles Darwin, and this one is Schopenhauer, and this one is Einstein, and this one here at my elbow is Mr. Albert Schweitzer, a very kind philosopher indeed. Here we all are, Montag. Aristophanes and Mahatma Gandi and Guatama Buddha and Confucius and Thomas Love Peacock and Thomas Jefferson and Mr. Lincoln, if you please. We are also Matthew, Mark, Luke and John."
I found this scene to be somewhat heartwarming through the idea that men and women can become repositories for the books which they carry in their mind. If the world ever came to something like Ray Bradbury describes in his novel, I would like to imagine that such an underground of photographic memory would indeed exist to help preserve the knowledge of books for future generations.

Overall, I think that Fahrenheit 451 is a novel which all lovers of books should read. Its ideas about censorship and literature are both powerful and thought evoking. I find it very hard to give a rating to classics such as Fahrenheit 451, due to the value which they are given in the literary world, but if I were to rate this novel I would give it a solid 5 stars!


Selina said...

Great review! This has been on my to-read-list for a while, but like you I have been reading more YA and newer titles while forgetting about these classics. Thanks for sharing!

T.B. said...

I had to read this one for school, and I'm so glad I did! It was really nice to read a classic. Most of my friends took everything literally though, and they really didn't understand the symbolism that was so often in this book. There were so many good quotes in this book too! Great review!

My anxious life said...

I thought this book was FABULOUS!


TheJennaGirl said...

Ooo! Great review! I haven't read this one yet (on my very looonnng TBR list). I haven't really gotten into dystopian yet but this might be a good start?

Happy RAD Day!

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