||I forget, often, how different science
fiction books are that were written in the 1950s. There is much less
action, and much more thought.
In this case, the author puts so much
passion into the main character that I was exhausted every time I put
the book down. Essentially it was the character, Montag, thinking about
the books that he was charged to burn. He has philosophical
conversations with a young neighbor, until she is killed, about how
beautiful the world is, to have new experiences, and so on. The
conversations seem strange because they are talking about the world in
which we already live. We do not have the kind of restrictions that
these people have, the mindlessness of society. Society has,
fortunately, taken a different path from the one depicted in this book.
We still have the huge TV screens, and
all sorts of reality shows (the author was frighteningly prescient about
those). Yet people still think a lot. Even those who would rather sit
and watch TV all the time have strong opinions. The people in this book
have voluntarily given themselves over to oblivion, both in spirit and
in mind, and by the end, in body as well.
The way the banning of books is laid
out is also frighteningly plausible. It is one thing to say that people
stopped reading, but it is the reasons why they stopped that are
interesting. In order to please innumerable groups of minorities, certain books were
banned because they could be hurtful. Of course, in some way or another,
are minorities, so to stop offending everybody, all books and all
fictional TV shows would have to be banned. From being forbidden to have
books in public to banning them in private, too, is not such a huge
step, either. I can actually see it happening eventually with smoking in
this country (although I would be very happy about that, especially in
houses that I would visit, rent or own).
Clarisse's family is marked by the
authorities as being strange and to be watched. They stay up all hours
of the night talking about things! Her uncle was actually
arrested for taking a late-night stroll once. She herself was reportedly
killed after being hit by a car while strolling along the roadways.
Unfortunately for the reader, the past, which was less
restrictive and more thought-provoking, is not far enough in the past. I
cannot see how all of this could happen in a single generation, so that
people could actually remember the old days, when Firemen put out fires
instead of setting them.
Montag, a Fireman, gets spooked after a
woman burns herself along with her books. He takes a book home with him,
and can't face burning any more, especially after all those
conversations with Clarisse. There is not really much more to the story,
as Montag agonizes about what he should do with his life. His boss, who
knew that he took the book, gives him a chance to give it up, but he
flaunts it to everybody he meets. He had actually been storing books for
years, without reading them! From his thoughts early in the novel, I
knew that he had hidden a book behind the ventilation grate in his
house. What surprised me was how many he had actually taken! Even the old man who gives him a
two-way ear-radio thinks he is insane for doing reciting poetry to his
wife's houseguests. Eventually, when his
own house is burned, he kills his boss and goes on the run, across the
river and out into the country.
I have some trouble believing that he
could so easily reach the countryside and meet up with the lost souls
who remember the old days, mostly university professors. But they are
made out to be an interesting bunch of people, as each has memorized a
book, or more than one. They hold onto it for the day when people change
their minds and want to welcome books back into their society.
What I like about the book is that they
don't change society by the end. They go on their way, hoping to help
the people in the cities who were not killed when the bombs from the
Enemy fell down. They describe what is wrong with society, and realize
that it cannot be changed in a single lifetime. People have to wake up
from the dream of wanting nothing but fun and entertainment in their
lives (which makes me wonder what other kinds of occupations exist in
this kind of world where people are encouraged NOT to think). When they
are ready to change, the people will recite the books to be printed
Until then, they wait.
For a book about burning books, this
was more a warning about falling asleep while rights are taken away in
the name of tolerance, security, and simplicity. The books are just a
symbol, and a pretty good one, too.