I thought it was to be taken for granted that the story was about burning books, after hearing about Fahrenheit 451 (F451) and reading the description, and upon reading the first chapters I wasn’t impressed with the beginning of the story, feeling it was a touch simplistic, and nothing I’d not covered before in dystopian fiction. The main character, Montag, works as a fireman burning books, and his eyes are immediately opened as to how happy he is by a young (flirtatious?) girl, who is too young for the married fireman yet represents the youth he’s left behind himself. She’s spontaneous, curious, and energetic; everything he’s not allowed to be.
I was wrong – excellent story!
From humble beginnings, the story circulates around Montag’s daily life and everything wrong with it: his wife’s suicide attempt, the blaring intrusion of wall screens in his living room, his fear of the Hound, an ongoing internal and external war, and the burning of zealous innocent readers who hoard away books.
The Hound: ‘Light flickered on bits of ruby glass and on sensitive capillary hairs in the nylon-brushed nostrils of the creature that quivered gently, gently, gently, its eight legs spidered under it on rubber-padded paws.
But there is far more wrong with the world than even what’s before Montag’s eyes. Most notable is his antagonist and boss Beatty, a book-burning fireman who spouts quotes remembered from when he did read to mentally challenge any possible counter-argument Montag may think to conjure. In this way Beatty is a hypocrite, seeing himself as having superior knowledge to any who may read, in his justification of the status-quo:
‘Whirl man’s mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters, that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought.’
‘There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.’
Some impactful quotes:
‘But remember the captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority. Oh, God, the terrible tyranny of the majority.’
‘We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel, drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over, so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.’
F451 is a story you need to read if you’re into dystopian fiction. It takes you to the roots of humanity and compares it solidly with a plausible version of those who represent what could be deemed its opposite: the mindset of the silent conforming majority coupled with the zeal of book-burning firemen. It has that feeling Philip K Dick books have, of putting you in the shoes of a character who has to fight his or her way through an oppressive system, and there were interesting characters and groups in society Montag comes across. Highly recommended.