Fahrenheit 451 is not your typical dystopian story. It is a world where all forms of literature are on the brink of extinction, the possession of books is culpable, television rules undisputed, and firemen don’t put fires out. Rather they set fire — to libraries and to houses that are suspected of containing books.
The protagonist, Guy Montag, is one such fireman. His prime job is dousing books with kerosene and then lighting the spark that obliterates the pages as they flap like birds of ashes. Montag never considers the consequences of his actions and returns to his bland life and insipid wife, Mildred, who spends her days watching the “television family”. When your house is basically walls of television screen blaring at you all day, you don’t get time to think. Quite cleverly, the state has distracted its people and turned their attention away from contemplation to meaningless, gaudy soap operas.
He then meets an eccentric young neighbour named Clarisse, who instils in him the idea of a past where freedom of thought was not subdued. When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse disappears suddenly, Montag is moved to question the world.
Montag’s world stands on the brink of war, while he himself fights his guilt of hiding books that he stole from his arsonist profession. He is truly amused when, on one such mission, a woman — found reprehensible for her possession of numerous books — refuses to leave behind her house as kerosene fumes surround her. In a state of desperation, unable to convince the woman, Montag barely gets out of the house alive as the woman herself lights the match that causes her demise, along with her precious books.
One thought that compels Montag as well as the readers is this — what is it about books that is so riveting that it makes a human stay inside a house aflame?
Despite attempts to “reform” himself, Montag fails to succumb to the ways of the world, committing crimes along the way. The conclusion to the story is not an ending, for it entails a hope for an unforeseen future where the people might acknowledge the exigency of literature again.
Fahrenheit 451 is an intriguing work by Ray Bradbury that seeds the frightening thought of the possibility of extinction of books.
Reviewer’s rating: 4.8/5