RAD Book Club review: Fahrenheit 451

13 Jul 2017

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is set in a dystopian future where books are banned and firemen track down and burn all those that they find. It seemed a fitting read for our last Book Club of this series.

This novel was popular with Book Club members, although a few of us found that it didn’t arouse strong feelings either way. Most found the poetical style and the metaphors enjoyable, but others found it harder to engage with. Those who had listened to the audiobook said that Fahrenheit 451 is particularly suitable to listen to given its use of repetition and advertising slogans to create something that is almost poetry. Several of us decided to listen to the audiobook to better appreciate the style.

We discussed what genre the novel fell into, and found the presentation of a futuristic America more realistic than those science fiction plots with flying cars and Martians – and more optimistic towards the future than some other dystopian novels. We drew parallels and comparisons with other science fiction novels, like 1984. Many areas of the society were deliberately left unexplained; we had no real sense as to whether people had jobs or how they lived. This ambiguity added to the unsettling feeling produced by a society presented as having no (apparent) history, no memory and no permissible human interaction beyond watching TV or playing cards at the fire station.

Guy Montag is a strange mixture of naivety (hiding the books under a bush) and survivalist (killing Beatty with a flame-thrower!). He is out of his depth in the scholastic community that he finds himself drawn into and yet with the skills to evade the mechanical hound. Some thought Mildred Montag is described in a pejorative and unfair way to make the reader dislike her as brainwashed, shallow and representative of the system. But we felt more sympathy for her as a victim of the system than perhaps Bradbury intended us to: she takes pills both to sleep and (possibly) to attempt suicide, and is utterly absorbed by ‘her (TV) family’. Clarisse, who is instrumental in infusing Montag with a curiosity for reading and an interest in the world, is portrayed as the opposite of Montag’s wife – young, attractive and curious.

Bradbury, writing in 1953, uses television to comment on the ability of the media to control the populace, creating a barrage of noise to prevent creative thinking and to distract them from real social or political issues, such as war. We realised how prescient Bradbury was – today’s media, (especially social media), go far beyond the ‘parlour walls’ of the novel, and too much exposure to them might lead to a lack of a sense of history or community. Bradbury presents literature as having the power to kindle imagination and creativity. Captain Beatty expresses antagonism: having read some novels, he feels authorised to say they are worthless since they contradict each other with mere opinions and don’t present actual factual information.