In memory of Ray Bradbury
August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012
It is interesting to read old books that are about what the future will be like. There are several examples of these books and Fahrenheit 451 falls right into that category. It always amazes me how close we are to some of the things portrayed in these old time once “science fiction” novels. An example of this would be television screens that made up the entire surface of the wall, being written in the 1950’s. But the power of books like these doesn’t lie in the predictions that we have already achieved, but more in what we have not yet done and where they predict we are heading.
Fahrenheit 451 is based on the premise that books are illegal; there is only one view on any given subject (if there is any view at all), and therefore no controversy and because of this, “happiness”. This viewpoint is probably best summed up by the fire chief. He is the man responsible for the crew of firemen who respond to alerts. Not alerts of fires, but alerts of where fires need to be started, namely where books have been discovered. Here is his explanation.
Beatty peered at the smoke pattern he had put out on the air. “Picture it. Nineteenth century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then in the twentieth century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations. Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending.”
“Classics cut to fifteen minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two minute book column, winding up at last as a ten or twelve line dictionary resume. I exaggerate of course the dictionaries were used for reference. But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet…was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: now at last you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbors. Do you see? Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there’s your intellectual pattern for the last five centuries or more.”
“… School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?”
“…Now lets take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more the minorities. Don’t step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants…[the list continues]. The people in this book, this play, this T.V. serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag [the main character], the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines become a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, critics said. But the public, knowing what they wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive.”
“… There you have it Montag. It didn’t come from the government down. There was no dictum no declaration, no censorship to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today thanks to them you can stay happy all the time. You can read your comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals.”
“Yes, but what about the Firemen, then?” asked Montag.
“Ah,” Beatty leaned forward in the faint mist of smoke from his pipe. “What more easily explained and natural? With schools turning out more runners, jumpers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers, instead if critics, knowers and imaginative creators, the word, ‘Intellectual’, of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar. Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally ‘bright’, did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn’t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, like the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door? Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man? Me? I won’t stomach them for a minute. And so when houses were finally fireproofed completely all over the world, (you were correct in your assumption the other night) there was no longer need of firemen for the old purposes. They were given the new job, as custodians of our peace of mind, the understandable and rightful dread of our being inferior: official sensors, judges, and executors. That’s you, Montag, and that’s me.”
“… Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White People don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are in tears? Burn the book. Serenity Montag. Peace Montag. Take your fight outside, or better yet to the incinerator. Funerals are unhappy and pagan? Eliminate them, too. Five minutes after a person is dead he is on the way to the Big Flue, the Incinerators serviced by helicopters all over the country. Ten minutes after death a man’s a speck of black dust. Let’s not quibble over individuals with memoriums. Forget them. Burn all, burn everything. Fire is bright and fire is clean.”
You get the idea. I was struck with these passages. I leave it to you to decide if we are heading the same direction as this describes, (It is society that I am referring to.) But, these are not new arguments. These are the same sort of arguments that have been handed out by rulers and movements as a way to control society for centuries. With the advent of the Internet, it is much more difficult to censor what is actually accessible to the public, (even though someone can without difficulty spy on what you look at.) But never in history have people been so open to manipulation (through media of all kinds) as we are today.
All that having been said, it was interesting to read this book, and it gives me the excuse to spend more money on these wonderful works of combustible material than I already do. There is nothing like a good old hardback. 🙂