Sunday, May 19, 2013

Burn, baby, burn

So it's true—when you reread a good book, you discover more things about it that make you love the book even more. It was only last year in July when I first read Fahrenheit 451, and now, after finishing the book this lazy Sunday afternoon, I must say that the reading experience was even more fulfilling.

When I first read Fahrenheit 451, I was blown by away by the premise and its plot. Bradbury's made-up world where firemen burn books is the stuff of nightmares, especially among bibliophiles. It's a world where people aren't encouraged to feel and think, where it's enough to spend the day in one's work and then kill the remaining hours with mindless television.

This time around, I was particularly surprised that I paid more attention to Bradbury's characters. And I think that Fahrenheit 451 may be more character-centered than plot-driven. I still have a soft spot for Guy Montag, our main character. You just can't help but root for the guy. When his character transforms from being an instrument to destruction to a supporter of the printed word, you realize that all is not lost for humanity after all. It takes just one person, just one person who thinks rationally and questions the status quo, to tip the balance. Montag is the person that the dystopian world in Fahrenheit 451 is afraid the most.

Then there's Captain Beatty, Montag's boss and the novel's antagonist. He represents everything that went wrong in that speculative future. Beatty is uncompromising in his belief that it's dangerous to let people read books and pollute their minds with the thoughts of the books' writers. Beatty is learned, but he doesn't want people to learn. He quotes Shakespeare and Pope, and thus feels superior to the rest of the population who remain uneducated. He knows the world's terrible history—why it has come to be the bleak place that it is—but he fights and destroys the things and the people that can bring the old world back.

Montag's wife, Mildred, shows us what happens when we let unkind governments have their way with us. Mildred has become one-dimensional, forgetful, unaware, insensitive, and shallow. Who can blame her though. If the highlight of your day is watching TV programs, then you become nothing but someone who just takes up space. Mildred even chooses the company of the actors of a TV program, even calling them her "family," to having a conversation with Montag. She is what happens when we constantly get stimuli only from limited and controlled sources.

I wonder what I'll discover if I read Fahrenheit 451 a third time. I'm happy that I was able to go through Bradbury's detailed and sometimes poetic narrative. He really embodied the difficult craft of showing rather than telling. And I feel a bit melancholy that we've list this distinguished man of letters. If not for the book club's sci-fi read-along, I never would have reconnected with Fahrenheit 451. Now I'm looking forward to hearing other people's thoughts about it. I hope they like it as much as I did.


Anonymous said...

Fahrenheit 451 is one of my favorite books. I'm one to reread it too and am amazed at how Ray's visions of the future have materialized: the large wall tv's, reality tv-with audience involvement, and unfortunately, the way people don't seem to talk to each other face to face-they're too busy looking at advertisements, listening to music, or starting at a screen. I've not yet gotten a cell phone and hate reality tv because I don't want to humans to disconnect from each other.

Anyway, I keep hoping for a new, updated movie of this book because I think the themes in it are so important and could teach people a thing or two. Look at how Great Gatsby is number 1 on the NYT list and the movie is a hit.

Peter S. said...

Yes! A new movie adaptation would be awesome indeed!