I’d previously read, and thoroughly enjoyed, Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing. I always felt a bit ashamed of myself for never having read any of his fiction, so I decided to start with his best-known novel.
The story follows Guy Montag, a fireman in a dystopian future, one that seems eerily possible in many ways. In this future, fireman have nothing to do with putting out fires. Homes have been made fireproof, so there is no need for that. His job is to light fires, specifically to track down illegal books and set them alight. He very much enjoys his work until a few events in his life seem to shake him, and his curiosity, awake.
Books have become illegal in an attempt to curb individual thought. All entertainment and news programming on TV is designed to keep everyone happy and thoughtless, and education has been reduced to show only how something is done rather than why. Superficially, everyone is content, but beneath the surface people are committing suicide, teenagers are killing each other on the streets, and society has grown apathetic and emotionally distant. Bomber jets fly overhead, wars start and end, without anyone really caring.
What I found most interesting was how this future came to be. In most stories featuring book-banning, the bans typically come from the government. In Farenheit 451, it’s the people themselves that drive the censorship, which is something I could imagine happening much more readily. The government merely perpetuates and enables this, and the firemen are mainly there to put on a show. They got to this place because people seemed to think they had a right to avoid being offended. Different religious and ethnic groups began picking apart books, editing pieces that they felt were threatening – replacing a word there, removing a few pages here. Their intentions were likely innocent enough, but censorship is very much like playing with fire – you can try and control it for your own purposes, but it’s likely to eventually spread out of control.
I really enjoyed Bradbury’s writing, and I’m looking forward to reading some of his other works – another of his ten novels, some of the over 500 short stories, or maybe one of his plays or collections of poems. I certainly won’t have any trouble finding something of his to read.