Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Classic sci-fi, dystopian

451

I read this book as a sophomore in high school, 22 years ago. I remember it being one of the easier-to-read classics of my 3 years of Honors English. All I really remembered about it, though, is the basic premise of book burning, the parlor screens, and a vague creepy idea of the Mechanical Hound. After reading it again now, I’m actually surprised that I remember it as a “simple” read, due to the writing style and a plethora of metaphors, but it does probably make a difference when you’re pushed to analyze it after reading each third. I didn’t dissect it for symbolism and analyze every paragraph like I did other classics, though, and I still have the short papers I wrote for assignments about it. It was fun to read those again after reading the book.

As an adult, I see the book differently than I did back then. For one thing, I have come to realize that the book is not about the censorship involved in book burning. The fire captain makes it clear that society turned from books long before it became illegal to own them. Rather, the technology that led them to that point seems to be what is being demonized. I suppose it’s a call to make sure we don’t let it take over our lives.

Though to be honest, I think there’s a mixed message here, because despite the explanation the captain gives, it’s also clear that the government doesn’t want the people thinking for themselves. Wants them distracted while they’re about to go to war–why and with whom, we never know. And due again to the writing style, I am not sure I understand what happened at the very end regarding the war.

I would say a strong theme, which is perhaps more relevant today, is the control the government is able to exert over the people. If the majority of society decides it doesn’t care about books, then those people just don’t read books. Why does that have to lead to books becoming illegal? The government decides that it needs to regulate the people’s “fun” and oppose the potential of anyone offending anyone else at all, and apparently the people let it happen. Especially considering how recently Faber was a professor at a liberal arts school, it’s amazing how quickly it must have happened.

One thing that I was absolutely correct about in remembering this book was how creepy the Mechanical Hound is. I actually had some unpleasant dreams the night in between the two days it took me to read the book this week, and the Hound was a highlight. (I don’t have specific memories of the dreams, but a general understanding that they were related to the book.) It’s seriously disturbing.

In the end, for me, at least, this book doesn’t hold up as the classic it’s hailed as. It’s not a bad story, but I don’t know that it’s worth studying or holding up as a warning. Between this and Ender’s Game, maybe I’m just not a fan of classic sci-fi.

Find out more about Fahrenheit 451

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

  1. Oh, I think it stands up perfectly as a classic. It warns us of the dangers of trying to suppress people by keeping them ignorant. It also points out that the arts, especially the written word, can be a powerful motivator for human behavior. The combination of the two – the power of the written word, and attempting to suppress people is something that is totally relevant today. In fact, more than relevant today with fake news and people encouraged to follow their “leaders” blindly without thinking and learning the facts.

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    • I’d imagine it depends a lot on the reader, considering that so many people hail it as an indictment of censorship, even though one of the characters plainly states that it’s not about the books–the same message could easily be spread through the wall screens but isn’t, because that’s not what the people want. I can see the message that Bradbury intended, about not letting TV (which can easily be correlated to internet & social media today) turn us into idiots. But I personally feel the message is muddied. I can tell from my old papers that I didn’t quite pick up on that as a high schooler. Maybe it means my teacher didn’t do her job, but then, she might not have quite gotten the message either.

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  2. I recently just reviewed Fahrenheit 451 myself and I had a really similar experience to you – it just hits differently as an adult.

    It almost feels like Ray Bradbury gave you his stream of consciousness plus also a little story on the side. It doesn’t feel like a compact, stand-alone story.

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