I recently re-read Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” for a Banned Book discussion group I attend. If I had to sum up my reaction in one line, it would be this: it’s even scarier after all these years.
I won’t bother describing the plot, as I think most have read this as part of an English class, or have seen it referenced as part of pop culture. Bradbury’s story of a repressive society that confiscates and destroys all unsanctioned printed material, all the while placating and lulling its people with mass-produced, ubiquitous drivel, is all the more chilling for its eerie resemblance to the present day.
Even though the book was written in 1951, it seems fully appropriate for readers in this day and age. In Bradbury’s world, nearly everyone is plugged in most of the time, to music, or TV or clever personalized ads. Walking around outside, unplugged, seeing the world, interacting with neighbors, occasionally getting rained on is frowned upon and thought to be subversive. As someone who can be seen everyday doing an odd sort of mambo in the halls of Pardee to dodge screen-obsessed students, this is not science fiction—this is a sad fact. Bradbury’s people are afraid of silence, afraid of their feelings, afraid of emptiness and encouraged to self medicate to get through the day. How many times do we anesthetize ourselves with TV, or alcohol, or painkillers/recreational drug of choice to get through our days? Bradbury’s people keep buying more and bigger screens to be happier—sound familiar?
I was surprised at how well the book held up after all these years. The story is no less fresh or compelling, perhaps more so because it was so frightening prescient. Full disclosure: I am a rabid Bradbury fan, especially of his earlier work and his short story collections, but if you’ve never encountered him before, this novel is a fine place to start. Short, simply written, devastatingly matter-of-fact and brimming with his humanity and ultimately, hope for our ability to save ourselves from ourselves.