Guy Montag is a fireman, but in the fictional future of Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451 a fireman is no longer what you expect. A fireman does not put out fires, he starts them. Whenever the alarm goes off, the firemen assemble and race to the scene of the crime, where they quench the thirst for knowledge, by burning books that have been condemned illegal. Firemen are now crime fighters. Owning books is now a crime. Our main character, Montag goes about his business burning books without any considerations. Only, lately his hands seem to have gathered a will of their own. There is something forbidden hidden in his apartment and consequently, something forbidden in his mind. Montag represses his feelings of doubt and discomfort, tries to go on leading his less than fulfilling life, until one day, when he meets someone who tilts his universe.
Clarisse McLellan is seventeen years old and, in her own words, crazy. According to the standards of the fictional future she lives in she deviates from the norm, since she takes time to think things over, to ponder, to wonder and stare in awe at leaves, at the sky, at people. The simple habit of conducting a meaningful conversation has become an oddity, something strange and dangerous. When Clarisse and Montag first meet, he is scared senseless by her unusual ways, but slowly his mind starts waking to the reality surrounding him, and he realises that it’s not Clarisse who is crazy, it’s society.
Why burn books? They are dangerous of course, since they demand time, concentration and thought, something that the society in Fahrenheit 451 does not allow. Every second of the day, the citizens of Bradbury’s society are bombarded with commercial and mindnumbing information, streaming constantly through television walls and screens, on billboards, through radio. Montag’s wife is the perfect example of a mindless citizen, watching their television walls all day, listening to radio all night;
“And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind.”
The constant noise from the walls, screens and radios drown out any form of higher thought, which is also the purpose, and everything seems to move at an insane speed. Drowned in the stream of meaningless noise, feelings and thoughts are reduced to the simplest of forms. But the perpetual machine of motion and noice must be kept up, lest someone stops to smelll the flowers again. Once Montag starts questioning his place in society, finding that he no longer fits it, time almost grinds to a halt. It feels like watching a roaring fire freeze in motion.
Fahrenheit 451 is a very interesting and thought provoking reading experience. Frightening to say, but there are many things to recognize in today’s society, comparabale to that fictional one of Bradbury. Our television sets roar at us, commercials call to our attention from our radios, computor screens flash at us. We are all part of a society built on the accessibility of information, and information is accessible at all times. This is a good thing, in many ways, but sometimes there is so much information to sift through that it all just becomes white noise. And how do we know that the information we get our hands on is true, un-corrupted and reliable? Luckily we can turn off our televisions, our radios, our computors.