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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is a futuristic literary work that tells the story of a protagonist Guy Montag. He starts as a competent and proud fireman, whose work is to burn the books and houses of those found to go against the law forbidding the reading of books. One begins to wonder why a writer would think of such a theme that sends through the ideas of destroying books for whatsoever reason? Was it for real or literary? In any case, the fall in reading culture nowadays can be interpreted to mean that books have been “burnt” by other sources of information and entertainment such as radio, television, and most especially social media. Was this what Ray Bradbury foresaw in Fahrenheit 451? All would be conjectures without reading through.
Area of focus
Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is all about an innovative America. He imagines a country in which all houses are fireproofed, rendering firemen like Guy Montag jobless. In order to retain their relevance, firemen burn houses of any person found to own books. This kind of strict rule is set because society believes books are the root of all social classes. Books also highlight issues in history that would have been forgotten in addition to making people ask too many questions on the status quo. By burning books, they intend to keep people happy, or so they assume.
For a long time, people have known that the only way to get entertained is to read. However, they now have to look for an alternative means of entertainment. Bradbury conveniently adopts electronic media as the way to go for the characters in his book. The first person we meet doing this is Montag’s wife, Mildred. She spends a better part of her time in the bedroom, glued to huge screens on the walls. There is constant noise, drama, and activity going on in the monitors even though very little plot can be traced from the TV shows.
Captain Beatty, who played Michael Shannon in the film adaption, asserts that the firemen’s role of destroying books is an important one as it stops people from slipping into despair. It is worth noting that as much as society is obsessed with happiness, people kill themselves or attempt suicide time and again. There is this incident where Mildred overdoses on pills overnight. Her husband gets the right people to pump her stomach. She forgets the whole drama by morning.
Consequences of technology
Advancement in technology comes with some kind of impact, either positive or negative; some sought of a necessary evil. Whereas people get the pleasure of realizing high-level entertainment, there are also consequences. Bradbury pictures a situation where Reader’s Digest would no longer be a treasured publication. His predictions were accurate because today, social media and Wikis seem to have taken over everything Reader’s Digest used to accomplish. In the book, his worry was mostly that people would no longer take time to dig deeper into an article. Rather, they would just have a look at headlines and proceed on to other things. Everything is now on Facebook or Twitter; emojis have replaced every online conversation. As we continue eroding language, we effectively get rid of complex thoughts, and we might soon find ourselves easily controlled by technology.
That might already be happening. During the 2016 United States presidential elections, there were numerous allegations of falsehood. It was claimed that a lot of fake news spread throughout social media with the intention of controlling the emotions of the electorate. Because people rarely read between the lines, they were quick to accept whatever information, albeit false, that they received, thus greatly influencing their voting decisions. The ability to synthesize information is continuously eroded; thus, we accept literally anything that is thrown to us. Considering that social media is just two decades old, one wonders what would happen by the time two more decades pass.
How about memory loss? Experts are always advising parents to make their children read more books than just watching TV shows. Investing too much of our brain in technology implies we would have fewer reasons to think. Why trouble about recalling stuff when you can easily get them online? This is something Bradbury was worried about and expressly wrote about it. Today, we Google just about anything. Anytime we encounter a question, we are quick to run to the search engine giant because it stores some kind of physical memory for us. At the same time, we mainly take social media accounts as the custodians of our emotions, memories, dreams, and facts. We have willingly given tech firms more powers without considering what that would imply. With such power, the human race could be headed towards an era of alternative facts. This is when what is genuinely known as true in the history books (Wikis) is rewritten to suit certain needs.
One of the most important technological innovations of our time is virtualization. All manner of interactions happens in the virtual world, which begs the question as to where books fall in this type of world. Well, it could be setting the center-stage for rebellion. But what type of rebellion? A kind in which people own books against the requirements. When one prints a book, there is literally no way for it to be tracked, altered, or hacked. Thus, you can confidently use it without fear that it might be taken from you. Even the firemen who are tasked with burning books in Fahrenheit 451 are fascinated by books, only that they have to accomplish their duty.
Violence in society
Bradbury also explores the theme of violence in great detail. The author uses Clarisse Mcclellan to point out that the people who are supposed to be maintaining peace are the ones instigating it. In most literally works, fire is associated with chaotic states. Thus, Mcclellan clearly lets us know the confused state of affairs by asking: “Didn’t firemen prevent fires rather than stoke them up and get them going?” There are countless instances of violence in the novel. To get entertained, firemen create the habit of releasing chickens and cats for Mechanical Hound to track down and kill. A young woman decides she would rather remain locked in her house and get burned alongside her books, while Mildred admits that she at one time ran over animals with her car and was happy about it! Her attempt at suicide is also a clear demonstration that the society is going crazy. This makes you stop and wonder what society has come to and how fast things have escalated. It is completely ironic that kids are worrying about getting killed by other kids. When a medic points out that suicide is a common thing in society, readers are effectively enlightened to how dire the situation is.
Fahrenheit 451 saw daylight in the 1950s, just a few decades after the Nazis burned books and eventually humans. At the time of its publishing, America was under intense fear and political repression. With such high-level anxieties, the book had every reason to thrive. Ray Bradbury was more futuristic throughout his writings and successfully expressed his themes with a mastery typical of acclaimed and talented authors.
Bradbury wrote one of the most interesting science fiction books, which might have accurately predicted our social media era. He imagined a future state in which people were entertained purely from the comfort of their homes, staring at giant wall screens. Their interaction with friends is based on these screens, and they could even listen to each other via Seashells inserted in their ears. This is Apple’s version of wireless AirPods.
With such kind of imagination at a time when technology was still basic, Bradbury paints a picture of a futuristic author whose creativity wouldn’t be hindered by the current limiting state of affairs. He clearly expressed fear that some innovations which would not have adapted to the changes would not be able to survive for that long. Readers Digest has been overtaken by tweets and Wikipedia.
Fahrenheit 451 is a novel that you best understand by reading rather than watching a film adaption. Most fans get upset when their favorite book is altered. It is true that Bradbury supported François Truffaut’s decision to adopt his book in 1966. He imagined the book being staged and later on being included in a musical, impacting many other elements. But still, you need to have the zeal to personally go through each brilliant word for the true message to come out. This is indeed a book of our social media age, as director Ramin Bahrani aptly states in one of his many comments about Bradbury’s works.