Fahrenheit 451: The imagined has become real

(Illustration by Zoe Schumacher)

“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury is a story of Guy Montag, a fireman. In this 1953 dystopian novel, firemen are not responsible for extinguishing fires, but rather for igniting them. Montag’s job is to burn books.

In Montag’s world it’s against the law to read books. Anyone caught with books is taken away by the police. If offenders of this law run, they are chased down by “The Hound.” This frightening mechanical dog-monster doesn’t leave survivors.

In the beginning, Montag loves his job. He loves burning things and laughs at the idea that firemen historically put out fires instead of starting them. However, Montag’s curiosity gets the best of him, and he begins to secretly steal books from the scenes of fires. He soon realizes he doesn’t want to stop.

Bradbury describes a world where people are socially isolated. The relationships Montag has with his co-workers are shallow and unfulfilling. His wife is pulling away from him and becomes increasingly involved in her television plays. Due to his book exposure, Montag develops a yearning for deep connections like those depicted in his novels.

Montag’s downfall comes not long after he meets a young woman with whom he begins an intellectually exciting relationship. His wife just seems to find fulfillment in the television and repeatedly attempts to commit suicide. 

“Fahrenheit 451” is relatively short and easy to read; however, it’s also uncomfortable to read. The similarities between Montag’s world and ours are glaring. 

It seems Bradbury foresaw COVID-19 lockdown-induced social isolation as Montag’s wife’s beloved plays are featured on wall-sized screens that are similar to the large televisions sold in Walmart. These shows become her world; she is isolated from the humans around her. This doesn’t seem too far off from the reality shows that are on every streaming platform right now. 

The most frightening part of Montag’s world is the anti-intellectualism that leads to book burning. In 2023, there is a push to limit children’s education by restricting information and discouraging critical thinking. At the moment, book burnings are rare, but book banning is on the rise. There is a thin line between banning a book and burning it.

“Fahrenheit 451” deserves more than one reading. Bradbury uses language carefully, and the book is full of symbolism. The allusion to fire and light deserves careful attention. It is a masterpiece that has lasted sixty years without losing relevance, and its warnings should not be dismissed.