Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beatty wanted to die.

He wanted Montag to take that flame thrower and burn him mid-lecture. And as he writhed like a slug on the ground, some of the gibbering was in relief that he no longer had to live the charade of a fire chief who didn't want to burn books -- or bookworms -- any more than Montag did.

At least that was my feeling reading the book, this time through. And it's been a while since I read it. It's one of those books you read in high school and then put on the shelf and look at it from time to time, satisfied somehow that you read it. A long time ago. So when my daughter took it off the shelf to read it for school, I followed up with a reading once she was done.

And wow. Wow. What a book.

And while it oozes criticism of censorship and McCarthyism, it also oozes criticism of technology and the distractions it brings. The parlor shows, the drugs, the comic books, all meant to entertain without causing discomfort. And Montag revels in the destruction of it all.


A great nuzzling gout of fire leapt out to lap at the books and knock them against the wall. he stepped into the bedroom and fired twice and the twin beds went up in a great simmering whisper, with more heat and passion and light than he would have supposed them to contain. He burnt the bedroom walls and the cosmetics chest because he wanted to change everything, the chairs, the tables, and in the dining room the silverware and plastic dishes, everything that showed he lived here in this empty house with a strange woman who could forget him tomorrow, who had gone and quite forgotten him already, listening to her Seashell Radio pour in on her and in on her as she rode across town, alone. And as before, it was good to burn, he felt himself gush out in the fire, snatch, rend, zip, rip in half with flame, and put away the senseless problem. if there was no solution, well then now there was no problem, either. Fire was best for everything!

Fire cleanses. Even the cleansing fire of the nuclear attack on the city he flees comes as a relief to him. It's a final cleansing spectacle that might possibly bring an end to the madness of the normalcy of the world he knew was ill.

And Rad Bradbury, famous luddite who rented a typewriter over nine days for a total of $9.80 to write this novel, I'm sure would be even more appalled at the state of technology, with computers and screens not limited to our homes, but appended to our bodies. And the surveillance state. And, more importantly, our willingness to be surveilled.

I read the last sixty pages at a gulp, all the time colliding with Bradbury's remarkable prose:

Millie was not here and the Hound was not here, and the dry smell of hay blowing from some distant field put Montag on the land. He remembered a farm he had visited when he was very young, one of the rare few times he discovered that somewhere behind the seven veils of unreality, beyond the walls of parlors and beyond the tin moat of the city, sows chewed grass and pigs sat in warm ponds at noon and dogs barked after white sheep on a hill.

Oh how the coastal elites of today, just as the city-dwellers in Montag's unnamed city, might look down their noses on those who live and work in the countryside. Not knowing, not caring that they might be more free, or at least have an opinion different than their own and reacting with disdain and bad humor when they discovered they do -- even if they bothered. Which those in Montag's city did not.

The country may be messy with farms and dogs and cows and leaves and mud, but to Bradbury, it feels more real. Montag might have had a much harder time burning a farmhouse -- then again, he may not have had to burn it at all, had he and Millie lived in one.

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