“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”
In 1951, Ray Bradbury sat in the basement of UCLA's Powell Library typing what would become his most famous work on a rented typewriter. In the age of McCarthyism, Bradbury set out to warn the world what would happen if society allowed censorship to rule the day and the loneliness that would be found in a world without books. Over 50 years later, his warnings are just as important as our own world begins to look increasingly like the one of his creation.
Guy Montag is a fireman at an unspecified time in the future. Unlike the firemen of the past, their job is to set fires, not put them out. Books have been banned, and anyone who is found to have them has their house and belongings destroyed by the firemen. Things have been this way for as long as he can remember, so Guy doesn't question them. That is, until he meets a young woman named Clarisse, whose free thinking ideals and free spirit cause him to see things differently. And so begins the un-ravelling of his world as he begins to question everything he has ever believed, and wonders what exactly is inside those books that makes them so dangerous to so some, and so important to others.
My Review (Caution - Spoilers):
This is one of the books that I have meant to read for a long time and just never got around to. It is ranked among the top of dystopian novels along with Brave New World and 1984. In many ways, I found the book to mean more in today's times than it might have 50 years ago.
Censorship is the main issue that Bradbury tackles in this novella. We have a society that has banned all books in an effort to "protect" people, but what I find fascinating is that unlike other dystopian novels and examples in history, this change has come from society itself and not from the government in charge of it. Books were banned little by little because different groups found "offensive" material in them. In effect, political correctness led to the end of books because people could always find something offensive in them. Sounds a lot like the times we live in. Our society's answer to everything we find offensive is not to argue against it with sound logic, or even just ignore it, but rather to ban it all together.
You can also see glimpses of our society in other areas. Like the citizens of the novel, we have begun to live vicariously through other mediums. We trade personal interaction for time in front of our TVs. We have friends over, not to talk to and learn from each other, but to watch other people's lives unfold on the screen. A great example of this is how Mildred can't remember how she and Guy met, but she refers to the people on her TV as family. Our real life experiences somehow feel less real than the things that happen in media.
The only real problem I had with this book was that it was so short. I felt like there were so many themes and issues that could have been fleshed out more than they were. I guess this is because Bradbury had to rent his typewriter, but still everything seems to happen almost too fast. Guy goes from having no clue about what is in books to an enraged passion for them in what seems like a couple of days.
Besides that quibble, this is certainly a book that should continue to be read. Bradbury's imaginary future is eerily similar to our world, and it is important to head the warnings found here or our fate might be worse than the one at the end. If you haven't read this one, you really should.
In 1966, a film adaptation was made starring Julie Chritie and Oskar Werner. I have not seen it, but Bradbury was pleased with it.