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Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopia novel authored by RaBradburand first published in 1953.
The novel presents a future American society in which the masses are hedonistic, and critical thought through reading is outlawed. The central character, Guy Montag, is employed as a "fireman" (which, in this future, means "bookburner"). The number "451" refers to the temperature at which book paper auto-ignites. Although sources contemporary with the novel's writing gave the temperature as 450 °C (842 °F), Bradbury apparently thought "Fahrenheit" made for a better title. The "firemen" burn them "for the good of humanity". Written in the early years of the Cold War, the novel is a critique of what Bradbury saw as issues in American society of the era.
The concept started with Bradbury's short story "Bright Phoenix," written in 1947 but first published in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1963. The original short story was reworked into the novella The Fireman, and published in the February 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. The novel was also serialized in the March, April, and May 1954 issues of Playboy magazine. Bradbury wrote the entire novel on a pay typewriter in the basement of UCLA's Powell Library. His original intention in writing Fahrenheit 451was to show his great love for books and libraries. He has often referred to Montag as an allusion to himself.
Over the years, the novel has been subject to various interpretations, primarily focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas. Bradbury has stated that the novel is not about censorship; he states that Fahrenheit 451 is a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature, which leads to a perception of knowledge as being composed of "factoids", partial information devoid of context, e.g., Napoleon's birth date alone, without an indication of who he was.[
I think that like so many of Bradbury's works, the novel is its strongest in forcing us to analyze how much of our modern society might parallel the vision given to us in the work. Our world might not be exactly like the vision offered, but part of what makes Bradbury's work so powerful is that it presents a world that is meant to cause examination in our own. How present is the fear of new ideas in our world? How do we appropriate new ideas and beliefs into our social schema? How do we deal with the issue of governmental censorship or control? How are we dependent on television and other mediums that might preclude open thought and dialogue? These are questions whose mere mention and presence force us to better understand our world, each other and ourselves. Another point of relevance and appreciation would be in the the notion of "book burning" itself, which has come to mean and symbolize so much that is antithetical to the hopes of a democratic order.
I've never been a strong fan of science fiction, but I liked this novel for several reasons. I liked the theme stressing the importance of literature as it relates to preserving the expression of humanity and to the importance of independent thinking. I also liked the disturbing questions it raises about individuality and the power of government. Finally, I liked the portraits of human courage that emerge in the story, developing the idea that the human spirit is stronger than tyranny.
Unlike mshurn, I am a fan of dystopian fictions like this novel, and what I feel makes this one stand out from other, lesser forms of dystopia is the whole idea of books being illegal and the terrifying (this is an English graduate writing) vision of books being burned. It really for me makes me question the value of literature in our society, why it is so important and why civilisation depends on it. To me, one of the most poignant parts of the novel is when Montag reads out "Dover Beach" to Mildred and her friends, and one of them begins to cry - there is a sense in which literature makes us human, helps us to experience the emotions which determine our humanity, and in the lives of Mildred and her cronies we see people that are living half a life - a debased life, because of their lack of access to literature.
I love the thought-provoking story, and Bradbury's fits the bill. I found myself automatically looking for parallels between the imaginary society of the novel, and our own in the United States. While certainly in the extreme, it didn't seem impossible either, and there are societies who attempt to control thought and information in such an extreme way.
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