Fantasist & Futurist
- Nov 23, 2002
I found this dystopian novel to be somewhat disturbing - for the wrong reasons.
The basic premise is that Montag is a "fireman" who goes around burning books - and any homes in which they are found. However, through the story we see him question his role in this, and face the moral problem of what he's doing.
By itself, it should be a classic dystopian warning against book burning. And it kind of is that.
The problem is, there's no real depth to the story - it's incredibly superficial, with no real character or world-building, or even plot.
And no real ideology, except that the masses should not be disturbed by ideas that should make them think, and shake them from their own dreary existences.
This is all underlined in a speech about a third of the way into the book when Montag is confronted by his superior, Captain Beatty.
At times it makes for chilling reading, apparently as relevant today - not least the portrayal of Montag's wife, Mildred, who separates herself constantly from the world with earphones and holographic general entertainment.
She is not a sympathetic character, and this is the problem.
When I was younger I might have cheered this attack on the mindlessness of mass culture. But reading it now, Bradbury isn't just doing that - he's laughing at people.
And this is where the whole book falls down for me: Farenheit 451 is more of a tirade against mass culture, rather than a promotion of the importance of literature - more of a specious rant by an old Mid-Western college professor, resenting that the wider population doesn't read classic literary greats such as The Bible and Plato's Republic (you read that right).
The premise - that mass culture refuses to be challenged - also misunderstands that popular culture constantly challenges the values of mass culture. The sociologists in the room will recognize that distinction.
Overall, of all the big-name dystopian novels, Fahrenheit 451 is easily the weakest. It may be worth reading just to make up your own mind - but don't be too surprised if rather than deep insight, it comes across as an old man ranting that radio and television will rot your brain.