This archived article was written by: Ashley Stilson
Fun fact of the day: the autoignition temperature is the lowest temperature at which an object will spontaneously burst into flames in a normal atmosphere without any other source of ignition. Another fun fact: paper has an average autoignition point of 451 degrees Fahrenheit. Hence Ray Bradbury chose the name Fahrenheit 451 for his dystopian novel about a world where books burn.
In an unspecified American city in an unspecified year in the future, jet cars race down the highways at incredible speeds, phenomenal televisions cover entire walls and skillful firemen begin fires instead of stop them. Firemen are ordered to burn forbidden contraband, and the most dangerous of these are books.
If anyone is found reading or possessing the wrong kinds of books, the books are burned and the houses along with them. Reading is not outlawed, of course, but reading the wrong types of books can lead people to thinking and getting improper ideas. Therefore, the firemen are simply protecting the people, because if ideas contrary to the public belief are voiced, those thoughts could end up offending someone.
The story follows fireman Guy Montag who is happy with his life until he meets his new neighbor, 17 year old Clarisse who is “a pedestrian in a world where nobody walks,” as Neil Gaiman states in his introduction of the book.
Clarisse questions the world they live in and the morality behind it. In light of her interpretation of the world, Guy is forced to question his own perceived happiness. “He wore his happiness like a mask,” Bradbury writes. “And the girl had run off across the lawn with the mask and there was no way of going to knock on her door and ask for it back.”
At Guy’s work, when a woman refuses to leave her books and choses to let the firemen burn her along with them, Guy wonders what is so important in books that are worth dying for. What could be so dangerous that the government has ordered them to be burned?
Fahrenheit 451 follows this particular fireman as he comes to realize the truth behind book burning. The theme of conformity and book burning is apparent as Bradbury writes about a world of people too busy to care about the censorship that closes in quietly around them.
Alice Hoffman from the Boston Globe calls the book, “A glorious American classic everyone should read: It’s life-changing if you read it as a teen, and still stunning when you reread it as an adult.” The novel was written in the 1950s when communist ideals were considered extremely dangerous and books containing any such ideas were banned.
Can the printed word be dangerous? Shouldn’t young children be protected from potentially harmful notions that confuse right and wrong? Can we protect ourselves from viewpoints that can compromise our happiness? As Neil Gaiman questions, “Why do we need the things in books…Stories are lies after all, tales of people who never existed and the things that never actually happened to them. Why should we read them? Why should we care?”
In this modern world of cautious critics, this printed book may shed some light on unobtrusive censorship. However, be forewarned: it may be hazardous to your thinking.