Guy Montag is a fireman, but not like those in the annual fire department calendar. No, Guy Montag sets fires. Specifically, he sets fire to books.
If this sounds like alternate world scenario, it is. This is the world of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”
The critically acclaimed dystopian fiction novel is approaching its 65th anniversary next month, but it is just as relevant to Americans today as it was in 1953: a totalitarian government, an obsessive reliance on technology, murder cover-ups and nuclear wars.
But hope is not lost. At first, Montag doesn’t question his job. He doesn’t ask why books are so terrible that they must be burned. He doesn’t show any inclination to want to know—until he meets Clarisse McClellan, a teenage girl who introduces herself with, “I’m seventeen and I’m crazy.”
Bradbury’s grim take on the future received mix reviews since its publication in 1953. In 1954, it won the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature and the Commonwealth Club of California Gold Medal. It received the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1984 and a Retro Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2004.
For all the praise, Bradbury also faced naysayers. In 1953, The New York Times wrote that “Fahrenheit 451” expressed “virulent hatred for many aspects of present-day culture, namely, such monstrosities as radio, TV, most movies, amateur and professional sports, automobiles and other similar aberrations which [Bradbury] feels debase the bright simplicity of the thinking man’s existence.”
Most readers agree that “Fahrenheit 451” is a social commentary and a warning about the dangers of censorship, so why, then, has it been banned over the years?
Points of contention include the novel’s use of profane language and treatment of the Bible.
The Illinois Library Association reports, as recently as 2016, a school system required parents to sign a permission slip for their child to read the book in class.
I read “Fahrenheit 451” for the first time in ninth grade, and it is the kind of novel that changes your worldview. It is constantly in the back of my mind.
Every time I look at my bookshelf, I’m reminded that ideas bound in those dozens of paperbacks have helped make me the vibrant, opinionated, stubborn, empathetic person that I am.
Without books, we turn into Bradbury’s characters like Mildred—dazed, static and useless—or Beatty—close-minded, aggressive and egotistical.
“Fahrenheit 451” does what Montag’s government is afraid of; it shows the power of knowledge to change a person’s mindset. People who read are not as easily persuaded and cannot be as easily controlled, which upsets the government’s oppressive regime, whether that government is a fictional dictatorship or a legitimate one.
Katie Cline is a graduate student in English. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.