Tuesday, June 7, 2011

ReView of FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury ; speculative, illuminating, questionning existence, the individual, political, racism


This is a science fiction novel which has crossed into the modern list of classic literature.  And for more than one reason, to be sure.

I found myself completely mesmerized by this novel in the first sixty-five pages, and then my interest plateaued towards the end, thankfully though it is only one hundred-seventy pages long.  There are very few books that are able to impress me beginning to end, so far anyway, and even though this book is a 'failure' for me in that sense, I believe there's more to it than meets the eye.  I may come back to this book in the future and maybe I'll have a different perspective of it, but for now I will have to embrace all the things I love about it despite the disappointing feeling I get when I think about the ending of the book.

The style of the writing in this book definitely didn't help me shape a better opinion of it.  It dragged on so many times, especially as I have mention towards the end.  The wordy prose combined with the lengthy tangents and over-descriptions of scenes and actions are sometimes distracting from the real core of the book, but nevertheless probably add to the book in a sense that I may not yet understand or appreciate.

Conceptually, though, this book is one of my favorites so far.  This is a speculative fiction of what the future might be like if books were eliminated from people's lives.

The future he describes is a wildly excited world to the point of mental unbalance that people themselves have chosen to live in.  The five second news blurbs and video soap operas rule the majority of their lifestyle.  For stress release and entertainment they like to race cars, release hounds on chickens and other animals, and enjoy gambling and betting games.  They are so raggedly worn down at their jobs they aren't capable of doing anything at the end of the day except 'go to bed or head for a Fun Park to bully people around, break windowpanes in the Window Smasher place or wreck cars in the Car Wrecker place with the big steel ball.'  People don't have off-hours to just think.  People have become so empty they can't remember their past histories, the death of their neighbors, have nothing different to say about much, and have no empathy for the lives of other people.  They are told what to think in terms of 'noncombustible data' or 'facts' to give them the illusion of happiness because 'facts of that sort don't change.'  They're made to fear 'slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tied things up with.  That way lies melancholy.' And more so, firemen will burn you along with your books if you try anything of that sort.  Few try though, but most would find all the thinking it required disturbing and bothersome. And while the government is not responsible for this, it takes advantage of people's purposeful ignorance waging wars overseas that nobody actually understands or really cares to.  Boom! Boom! Boom! If that doesn't shatter your imagination back into the reality of today, I don't know what does. 

Fahrenheit 451 is the 'temperature at which paper catches fire and burns,' if you're wondering.  And Montang, is a fireman, who at one point has to explain the smell he carries around with himself, the smell of kerosene.  "'What-the smell of kerosene? My wife always complains," he laughed.  "You never wash it off completely."'  Maybe this is symbolic of the notion that burning a book, or books, will remain with you, you'll carry it around like the smell of kerosene, and the smell of it will reek so strongly it will be uncomfortable even to those around you.  So why is burning books an act that may haunt you for the rest of your life, as it happened to Montag?  Nothing explains it better than the following quote from the book: '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.  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.'  You're killing off a human being when you decide to burn a book, it's not just paper, it's the life of a person you are erase from the face of the planet.  It doesn't get more powerful than this.

One of the most interesting conflicts in the book is, of course, the conflicts of those who read versus those who fight against the notion of reading and owning books. Clarisse being the former and Beatty being the latter, while Montag lies in the middle as the neutral party exploring both points and finally making a decision of his own about where he stands.

Clarrise shakes Montag's reality, the paradigm of the world he lives in, and makes him question his own self.  She shows him how much she knows, even at the age of seventeen, and how many things she knows of.  Nobody ever says anything different, it's all abstract, she tells him.  She gives him an example of how drivers wouldn't know the different between grass and a green blur or a rose garden and a pink blur. And she leaves him with the question of happiness: 'Are you happy?', she says to him.

Montag feels as though 'he wore his happiness like a mask and the girl had run off across the lawn with the mask and there was no way of going to knock on her door and ask for it back.'  He hadn't questioned his happiness until then, had just taken it as a 'fact' as the way of life, as it had been en-culturated to him by the firemen and everyone he knew.  Here was a seventeen year old, wise beyond her years, leaving him at the brink of his existence, shattered by some of the most important questions of his life.  He questions his environment (the Hound and his purpose), he questions his own self (his emptiness and why it exists), he questions his reality (maybe it would be good to be bothered with something more important, something real).

While he questions his existence, something made a huge impression on me.  When he's talking about the Hound, he says, '"I was just figuring," said Montag, "what does the Hound think about down there nights?  Is it coming alive on us, really?  It makes me cold." "It doesn't think anything we don't want it to think." "That's sad," said Montag, quietly, "because all we put into it is hunting and finding and killing.  What a shame if that's all it can ever know."  This instantly made me think of our military, the Hound is symbolic of our military, maybe in a very extreme sense, but it doesn't mean it isn't real to some extent.... BAM! Let that sink in and let the significance of this statement awaken you!

The character of Beatty made me extremely uncomfortable, you could say it was bothersome to me.  He's the character whose point of view of burning books is extremely well-defined, and firmly believes to be the ultimate 'fact' of life.  I don't even want to begin to analyze this character, it is so well described in the book, the following quotes speak for themselves:

On Individualism:

'We must all be alike.  Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal.  Each man the image of the other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against.'

'Heredity and environment are funny things.  You can't rid yourself of all the odd ducks in just a few years.  The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school.  That's why we've lowered the kindergarten age year after year until now we're almost snatching them from the cradle.'

'She didn't want to know how a thing was done, but why.  That can be embarrassing. You ask why to a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed, if you keep at it.  The poor girl's better off dead.'

On Political agendas:

'If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one.  Better yet, give him none.  Let him forget there is such a things as war.  If the government is inefficient, topheavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than people worry over it. Peace, Montag.'

On What people Think:

'Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of 'facts' they feel stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information.  Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving.  And they're be happy, because facts of that sort don't change.  Don't give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with .  That way lies melancholy.'

On The Effects of Books:

'Well, Montag, take my word for it, I've had to read a few in my time, to know what I was about, and the books say nothing! Nothing you can tech or believe.  They're about nonexistent people, figments of imagination, if they're fiction.  And if they're nonfiction, it's worse, one professor calling another and idiot, one philosopher screaming down another's gullet.  All of them running about, putting out the stars and extinguishing the sun. You come away lost.'

On Racism:

'Colored people don't' like Little Black Sambo. Burn it.  White people don't feel good about Uncle Tom's Cabin.  Burn it.  Someone's written a book on a tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book.  Serenity, Montag.  Peace, Montag.  Take your fight outside.  Better yet, into the incinerator.  Funerals are unhappy and pagan? Eliminate them, too.'
This is one of the most harshly illuminating quotes of the books.  It shook me to my core.  'Better yet, into the incinerator.'  Doesn't this remind you of one of the biggest crimes against humanity???  

The book was well developed in all these areas, but what really transpires towards the end of the novel?  Really, I don't quite know in details, since I pretty much flew off the pages at times.  But I can give you the gist of it.  People begin to memorize pieces of literature, each individual person knows one book by memory.  Each will pass the books on to the next generations by word of mouth.  Will it really work?  Maybe, maybe not.  The author says: 'you can't make people listen.  They have to come 'round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the wold blew up under them.  It can't last.' 

A lot to talk about in this book.  This book, if anything, makes for a great platform of discussion, on more than one topic and definitely on more than one level of life.  And for that I'm thankful to have read it, among other things.




Bookserk by Author

Milan Kundera (4) Jane Austen (3) Stephenie Meyer (3) Suzanne Collins (3) Bernhard Schlink (2) F. Scott Fitzgerald (2) H.G. Wells (2) Herman Hesse (2) JRR Tolkien (2) Jules Verne (2) Khaled Hosseini (2) Paulo Coelho (2) Sam Kean (2) Stieg Larsson (2) Sylvia Day (2) A.G. Howard (1) Adam Johnson (1) Alafair Burke (1) Albert Einstein (1) Alexander Soderberg (1) Alicia Hendley (1) Amanda Hocking (1) Andre Dubus III (1) Ann Patchett (1) Aravind Adiga (1) Azar Nafisi (1) Barbara Kingsolver (1) Becky Aikman (1) Camilla Lackberg (1) Carl Sagan (1) Cat Hellisen (1) Charles Webb (1) Charlotte Bronte (1) Chinua Achebe (1) Chris Prentiss (1) Chrisanna Northrup (1) Christopher S. Stewart (1) Clare Clark (1) Clive Barker (1) Coltaire Rapaille (1) Dai Sijie (1) Daniel J. Levitin (1) Daniel Kahneman (1) Daniel Pink (1) David Foster Wallace (1) David Levithan (1) David Sedaris (1) Debra Driza (1) Domenica Ruta (1) Don Miguel Ruiz (1) Douglas Adams (1) Elie Weisel (1) Emily Bronte (1) Emlyn Chand (1) Enid Shomer (1) Epictetus (1) George Orwell (1) George R.R. Martin (1) Greg Graffin (1) Gretchen Rubin (1) Harper Lee (1) Haruki Murakami (1) Herman Koch (1) JR Moehringer (1) Jane Eyre (1) Jennifer Egan (1) Jodi Meadows (1) John Eldredge (1) John Englander (1) John Kenney (1) John Steinbeck (1) John T Cacioppo (1) Joyce Carol Oates (1) Judy Blume (1) Julia Glass (1) Karen Thompson Walker (1) Karol Jackowski (1) Kate Chopin (1) Kate Walbert (1) Katherine Boo (1) Lauren DeStefano (1) Lisa See (1) Lois Lowry (1) Lou Marinoff PhD (1) Madhulika Sikka (1) Maggie Stiefvater (1) Margot Livesey (1) Marissa Meyer (1) Martha Stout (1) Mary Roach (1) Mary Shelley (1) Meg Howrey (1) Megan Abbott (1) Natalie Babbitt (1) Nujood Ali (1) Oliver Harris (1) Paulo Giordano (1) Poet Charles Swain (1) Poet Margaret E. Sangster (1) Priscille Sibley (1) Ray Bradbury (1) Rebecca Dean (1) Richard Francis (1) Robert Louis Stevenson (1) Robert M. Pirsig (1) Rudyard Kipling (1) Sarah Gruen (1) Sharon Lebell (1) Shirley MacLaine (1) Stasi Eldredge (1) Stephen Chbosky (1) Sue Kidd Monk (1) Susan Cain (1) Susanna Calahan (1) Tara Conklin (1) Tea Obreht (1) Terri Giuliano Long (1) Thrity Umrigar (1) Victoria Hislop (1) Virginia Morell (1) Voltaire (1) Zora Neale Hurston (1)

Bookserk Globally

Bookserk by Publishing House

Harper Perennial Publishing (8) Random House Publishing (7) Crown Publishing (6) Little Brown and Company Publishing (6) Harper Publishing (4) Knopf Publishing (4) Scholastic Press Publishing (4) Vintage Publishing (4) W.W. Norton Company Publishing (4) Anchor Publishing (3) Atria Books Publishing (3) Free Press Publishing (3) HarperCollins Publishing (3) Penguin Books Publishing (3) Riverhead Books Publishing (3) Ballantine Books Publishing (2) Bantam Books Publishing (2) BarnesNoble Classics Publishing (2) Broadway Publishing (2) Harmony Publishing (2) Harper Paperback Publishing (2) Hyperion Publishing (2) Katherine Tegen Books Publishing (2) Simon and Schuster Publishing (2) William Morrow Publishing (2) Algonquin Books Publishing (1) Amber Allen Publishing (1) Amulet Books Publishing (1) Berkley Trade Publishing (1) Blue Crown Press Publishing (1) Createspace Publishing (1) Crown Business Publishing (1) Del Rey Publishing (1) Dover Publishing (1) Ember Publishing (1) Faber and Faber Publishing (1) Farrar Straus Giroux Publications (1) Feiwel Friends Publishing (1) Five Rivers Chapmanry Publishing (1) Gallery Books Publishing (1) Grand Central Publishing (1) HarperOne (1) Hill and Wang Publishing (1) Hogarth Publishing (1) It Books Publication (1) MJF Books Publishing (1) MTV books and Pocket Books Publishing (1) McGraw Hill Higher Education Publishing (1) Nelson Publishing (1) Pamela Dorman Books Publishing (1) Pantheon Publishing (1) Plaza Y Janes Publishing (1) Plume Publishing (1) Pocket Publishing (1) Puffin Publishing (1) Quill Publishing (1) Reagan Arthur Books Publishing (1) Science Bookshelf Publishing (1) Signet Classics Publishing (1) St. Martin's Press Publishing (1) Touchstone Publishing (1) Virago Publishing (1) Washington Square Press Publishing (1)