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In Ray Bradbury’s classic of science fiction literature, Fahrenheit 451, the main character, Montag, is a fireman. His job in the dystopian society in which the story takes place is to burn books, and the buildings in which they are located. During the course of the story, he begins to question the morality of his occupation and the legitimacy of the regime governing the country. It is Montag’s interactions with Professor Faber, initially portrayed as the personification of moral cowardice, that provide an intellectual framework for Montag to better understand the role the latter has played in enforcing the totalitarian system that surrounds and controls them. It is in his visit to Professor Faber’s home that Montag learns the importance of books, which lies not in the structure of the item, but in the knowledge they contain. The relevant passage from the story is as follows. As Faber explains the importance of books to Montag, he states:
“It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that were once in books. . . Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”
In expanding on the significance of books, and why they are hated and feared, Faber applies a metaphor associated with life:
“This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You'd find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more `literary' you are. That's my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies. "So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam.”
Faber is explaining to Montag that books are a threat to the government because they represent knowledge and wisdom, the proliferation of which would undermine the government’s ability to control the masses. The information contained in books refutes the government’s justification for its rule and provides a window into alternative worlds that are within reach of those with the courage to strive for them.
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