The Expressionless World Without Books

The Media That Raised UsMedia

“It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.”

These lines have become representative of Ray Bradbury’s famous novel, Fahrenheit 451, in which he explores a future without books. All of America has devolved into a cycle of mindless entertainment, citizens’ attention spans gradually worsening until the government capitalizes on their indifference, introducing “the firemen.” In the novel, we follow Guy Montag, one of the firemen whose job it is to burn books. The book was released in 1953, yet I believe that the novel is still relevant today. Captivating from the start, this book draws you into a world where freedom of thought and imagination is replaced by the rise of technology, and it begs the question: What really is a world without literature?

Over time, Montag starts to collect books as he becomes curious about their contents and begins to question his work. On his return from work one day, he meets Clarisse McClellan, a teenager who, unlike her contemporaries, is sincere and insightful, opposing the wilder norms of her generation.

In many ways, Clarisse is the person responsible for igniting the change in Montag, starting with her simple question to him: “Are you happy?” I like the name Clarisse; it reminds me of the word “clarity,” which is an apt way of describing her defining characteristics — being pure, coherent, and intelligible in her thoughts — which, to some extent, she passes onto Montag.

Bradbury skillfully shows that, while this is a dystopian novel, to many of those in this world it is more of a utopia. As such, I would describe this as a utopian dystopian novel. Bradbury offers us the choice of whether this future world is a utopia or dystopia by posing the question: Do you want to be free, or do you want to be happy? This is one of the defining aspects of the book and why you should absolutely read it. Everyone will have a different thought on what is more important to them based on personal bias developed through their individual life experiences. This makes the book one of the best pieces of literature ever written as, if you give it just a little thought, you are capable of learning what you value.

I admire how scientifically accurate this novel is. Studies have shown that some technologies, like social media, can permanently damage our attention span, and when Montag is in the forest towards the end of the novel, we see an immediate improvement in his mental health. Again, this is backed by scientific studies that confirm the link between nature and its benefits for human health. This is incredible, as Bradbury is writing well ahead of his time; before social media even existed, he was able to predict its potentially harmful effects and how establishing a connection to nature may be beneficial. This is especially relevant to today’s society as social media has largely taken over the world, damaging many people’s mental health and causing suicide rates to reach an all-time high as people feel obligated to match impossible standards. By reading this book, people may draw parallels between the novel and their own lives and realize just how important mental health is. I personally hope that people are able to read the novella so they are able to take time to reflect on their own lives and how they can grow and develop with the help of their friends and family.

In spite of his loved ones’ suffering under society’s norms, Montag returns to work where he is out again burning books; one time, however, a woman whose books are about to be burned chooses to be burned alive with her books. Her sacrifice elevates her books from inanimate objects to living works of value.

This traumatic event convinces Montag of the innate value of books and further pushes him to his eventual choice to side with books. Montag decides to seek out Faber, an old man whom he once met in the park and whom Montag believes can help him with his hopes of understanding books. Faber, similar in sound to “father,” may express the idea that Faber will be a mentor to Montag and help him discover who he truly is. This is particularly necessary as Montag lacks the ability to truly express himself and, therefore, most of his ideas are explored by fire since fire is what he understands personally. This is a unique premise, as very few authors are capable of limiting themselves to conveying ideas through one main symbol. For example, Montag uses fire to show his overwhelming rush of emotions, saying: “The fire gushing up in a volcano. All rushing on down around in a spouting roar and rivering stream toward morning.” Here the fire is symbolic of his heightened emotions which are “gushing up” and bubbling to the surface; this is the only way he knows how to say what he’s feeling, as he lacks words to truly express his emotions. This is very inspired, as it matches the world that has been set up and allows Montag to act as a role model. Despite his very limited perspective, he seeks growth and shows us that you can only truly grow by expanding your own knowledge.

The book ends with a quote from Revelation: “And on either side of the river there was a tree of life, which bore twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” This is a beautiful way of ending the novel and it tells us that, no matter how bad the circumstances, if you are willing to try, anything can be saved and every ending is a new beginning. This message is crucial to today's society, as everyone has struggled in the past few years, but understanding that we can get better is one of the most important things that we need to remember. To do that, we all have to work together.

I love this novel. I give it 4.5 stars and would absolutely recommend it, though more to people aged 15+ due to the book’s many convoluted themes, which are hard to grasp. The novel utilizes a spectacular blend of history, the present, and the future to engage its reader. It starts with history, being based on the destruction of the library of Alexandria; it reflects the present’s reliance on technology, encouraging the reader to treat every day as a gift, and the potential for this future to come true as we grow ever more reliant on that technology. This is all entwined into a beautiful book that uses wordplay and many biblical allusions with a great deal of scientific accuracy to convey its messages, inspiring readers while warning of potential danger should they continue down this path.

Taylor Merrett is a Year 11 student at St John Bosco College in London, UK. In addition to reading and mathematics, he likes playing table tennis and chess.

Like what you're reading?

Sign up for the KidSpirit newsletter!

Let's make sure you'll get the best content for you:

Thanks for Signing Up!

You'll receive the next issue of our newsletter in your inbox