Fahrenheit 451 – the temperature at which book paper catches fire, and burns…
In the time where Guy Montag lives, the job of a fireman is not to stop a building to be caught in fire, but to start the fire. It was Montag’s job, along with all firemen, to burn houses that kept books inside. Montag was a man who lived the official firemen slogan to the fullest: “Monday burn Millay, Wednesday burn Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn ‘em to ashes, then burn the ashes.” Well, Montag was a good fireman for ten years, until he met Clarisse McClellan, a weird seventeen-year-old girl whose family recently moved next door. An odd short rendezvous with Clarisse got Montag thinking, that a long time ago there was different time when books are not forbidden, people were not afraid and firemen had a different mission than what he does at present time. One simple question from Clarisse, “Are you happy?” led the reader to what kind of life Montag was having; empty, cold and dead. Love has withered. The human relationships have vanished. Nobody cares about each other anymore. “Family” was the television screens people installed in parlor walls of their houses. Human beings were merely empty heads and empty souls.
“Last night I thought about all the kerosene I’ve used in the past ten years. And I thought about books. And for the first time I realized that a man was behind each one of the books. A man had to think them up. A man had to take a long time to put them down on paper. And I’d never even thought that thought before.” He got out of bed.
“It took some man a lifetime maybe to put some of his thoughts down, looking around at the world and life, and then I come along in two minutes and boom! It’s all over.” – p. 51-52
Out of desperation, Montag decided to do something completely mad: steal a book from a fire and then search for an old acquaintance: a retired professor named Faber. Together they made up an impossible plan to relive the vanished books. Needless to say that Montag’s little game with fire made him caught the fire. Captain Beatty the chief fireman has been sniffing the strange conduct of Montag and arranged to burn Montag’s house and to chase him down. Montag ran away to the river and came to a dark land in the wilderness. There he met a few people who kept the books like Plato’s Republic and Gulliver’s Travels and books by Charles Darwin and Einstein and Schopenhauer and Albert Schweitzer and many others, not in print and papers but in their heads. It was in their hands the answer to the question: Is there any future for books?
I had one question before I start reading this book. It was: what is this book trying to tell the reader? And then after I finished reading it, that one question exploded to many; I was puzzled and confused. One great mystery for me is who Captain Beatty really was. I mean, his mind was obviously well-fed with books, and he talked like he loved books, but yet he burned them. And then what become of Clarisse? Her character was so much like a light in the dark that I longed to see her again throughout the book, but she never showed up. And then the ending. I felt like I want to shout, “Is that it?” In short, I cannot fully understand this book, with its lack of background details and such a weird style of writing (at least for me). But this book got some very good lines that we should never forget.
Faber sniffed the book. “Do you know that books smell like nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land? I loved to smell them when I was a boy. Lord, there were a lot of lovely books once, before we let them go.” – p. 81
“Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.” – p. 82-83
“Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.” – p. 83
What to conclude from those passages? I can only take a personal conclusion. Someone said to me once, “Read good books.” Henry David Thoreau once said, “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” Thanks, Mr. Bradbury, for reminding me about that.
Special thanks to Astrid for lending me this book. 😉
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
190 pages, published 2003 by Del Rey Books (Random House Publishing Group), first published on 1953
My rating: ♥ ♥ ♥