Everyone seems to know something about Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451
, even if you haven’t read it. In a future America where books are banned and burned by “firemen,” individuals have given up control of their lives to the simple comforts afforded by the mass media. Wall-size television screens – several to a room – provide viewers with simplistic, positive views of the world. The TVs themselves become the individual’s “family,” offering advice and company. Meanwhile, warplanes zoom overhead as the country prepares to start yet another war, a war no one thinks will affect them in anyway.
Fireman Guy Montag is a man of two worlds. He enjoys burning books, but he also secretly hordes them. Books make him think, make him question the world he lives in, make him question the wife he still loves even though she has isolated herself from him with a constant droning of government-approved platitudes broadcasted her TVs and radio ear plugs. When Montag’s obsession with contraband literature becomes too great, he finds himself on the other side of the law willing to risk everything to save the books he once was paid to destroy.
Bradbury wrote this book in the early 1950s, not much more than a decade after the Nazis burned hundreds of books, during a time in the United States when McCarthyism turned American against American, and when school boards and churches were banning books from school and public libraries.
In today’s America, large-screen televisions boom with the imbecility of reality TV—who will be the next millionaire, singing star, or Donald Trump’s apprentice. Ten years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan barely touched most Americans. Churches and school boards in Red states are still trying to ban certain books from school and public libraries. The Romans had a term for it: panem et circenses
or bread and circuses—creating public approval through diversion.
Bradbury’s, Fahrenheit 451
, still holds up a half century after its first printing.