Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Listening to the Walls

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451.

It’s hard to describe Fahrenheit 451. It was a great book. A powerful book. One that is haunting almost. One whose characters and whose world stays with you long after you close the book. Montag, our hero, is a firefighter. His job is to burn houses and books. Books are illegal. Reading is deemed too dangerous. Those who hold onto the past must be destroyed along with these ‘ancient’ relics of books that are said to be ever-contradictory. Montag, it seems, has always gone along with the flow. Always accepted the status quo. Always accepted that this was his job. That this was what firemen did. But then, after a chance encounter with a seventeen-year-old neighbor, a girl named Clarisse, he begins to question everything in his life. Was it true that firemen used to put out fires? That they used to try to save instead of destroy? That they used to save lives instead of destroying them? Are books really that dangerous? Are ideas really that threatening?
Once he begins to question his life, his world, things will never be the same. Even after Clarisse's mysterious disappearance--and apparent death--he can’t stop thinking about her. About her odd lifestyle. About how she and her family would sit around and talk on the front porch. How they thought that talking and thinking were more important that listening to the walls. Or wasting your life away by plugging into whatever entertainment was being thrown at you at the time. About how she liked to go for walks. How she liked to think. Liked to ask questions.
Underneath the surface of Montag, there is apparently a rebel. He has been secretly collecting books and hiding them in the walls of his house. The clues are all there--his boss’ suspicions are right in front of him--yet he seems oblivious to the danger. His books have become so precious to him that he almost would rather choose them than life. Almost. He’s not crazy. He knows that eventually they will have to be burned. He knows that each day brings greater risk, greater danger. But he wants to read. Wants to absorb as much as he possibly can. It is not easy for him to do. There have been generations of people trained NOT to read books. Trained not to think. Trained not to learn or question. But his greatest possession is a copy of the Bible--both testaments.
Full of danger, suspense, adventure, Fahrenheit 451 is an exciting, scary read. A depiction of a society where the people have been brainwashed to focus on themselves. Brainwashed to think only of fun, fun, fun. Brainwashed to forget poverty, hunger, and war. Brainwashed to forget the darker sorrows of life and told to think only of good things, happy things, fun things. Reading is too dangerous in such a ‘perfect’ world. Reading leads to thinking. And thinking leads to....a realm of possibilities really.

’It’s been a long time. I’m not a religious man. But it’s been a long time.’ Faber turned the pages, stopping here and there to read. ‘It’s as good as I remember. Lord, how they’ve changed it in our parlors these days. Christ is one of the family now. I often wonder if God recognizes His own son the way we’ve dressed him up, or is it dressed him down? He’s a regular peppermint stick now, all sugar-crystal and saccharine when he isn’t making veiled references to certain commercial products that every worshiper absolutely needs.’

From Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, p. 109-110

The whole culture’s shot through. The skeleton needs melting and reshaping. Good God, it isn’t as simple as just picking up a book you laid down half a century ago. Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but it’s a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line. So few want to be rebels anymore.

From Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, p. 115

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