Ray Bradbury’s Future–Are We Here?

By miller727@icloud.com July 19, 2015 Uncategorized 16 Comments

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” – Ray Bradbury

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from Bradbury’s famous 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451, when I picked it up to read a few weeks ago, other than that it was a novel about censorship and burning books and is slightly less known than its dystopian rival, George Orwell’s 1984.

I’m also not sure why it took me 54 years to finally read this incredible book.

Fahrenheit 451 is certainly one of the more difficult 159-page books I have read.

In his chilling foretelling of the future, Bradbury presents a dreary and hollow world where firemen start fires rather than stop them, where books are burnt and people don’t seem to talk to each other, where suicide has become a normal, everyday thing and billboard advertising is two hundred-foot-long because cars go so fast that they wouldn’t see it otherwise.

It took me awhile to adjust to Bradbury’s writing style, which I found to be somewhat vague and scattered. His heavy use of metaphors, symbolism, and allusion demanded my full concentration–in fact, the type of critical focus he predicted many people of our era would lack.

Often I would reread sentences three or four times, mulling and ruminating about what they might mean. Bradbury has the rare skill of being able to say a lot by not saying much at all. As you well know, this is not always one of my strengths!

Ray Bradbury passed away in 2012 at the age of 92. I wonder if in his final days he ever thought to himself, “Wow, I didn’t think this would REALLY happen!”

In a dramatic piece of dialogue from the first section, the malicious fire chief, Captain Beatty, recounts to the protagonist, Guy Montag, the reasons books lost their value and where the firemen fit in.

Beatty describes that over the course of several decades, people embraced new media, sports, and a quickening pace of life. Books were ruthlessly abridged or degraded to accommodate a short attention span while minority groups protested over the controversial, outdated content perceived to be found in books. The government took advantage of this and the firemen were soon hired to burn books in the name of public happiness.

Doesn’t that description make you ponder some things going on in our country today?

Here is a quote from page 61 upon which I am still pondering:

“If you don’t want a house built, hide the nails and wood. If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag.

Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll think they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

Does anyone else see connections to the current push for common standards and assessments of knowledge for students, rather than thoughtful inquiry and debate on real societal issues? We certainly wouldn’t want to risk making our children melancholy by forcing them to think beyond a worksheet or multiple choice test!

Not to go all alarmist on you here, but the bigger question bouncing around in my mind is this: Is this future so chillingly imagined by Bradbury sixty years ago preventable? Or, has our society reached a point of no return?

Let’s be honest. If our broader society continues to value popular culture (sports and entertainment) above academic pursuits and education (as is currently does), are we destined to march right into Bradbury’s “society” of burning books and intellectualism on the run?

Technological developments Bradbury had no name for then are very real today. For example, his seashell radio has evolved into the ubiquitous iPods and headphones we see pressed in the ears of teenagers daily. TV screens continue to grow and the full wall television of ‘Mildred’s parlor’ is essentially here already. Are Robot dogs like Aibo that far away?

Bradbury alludes to the very real fear of technology and its potential impact on humanity. In a nation where 28% of adults fail to read even ONE book a year, I think it’s a valid concern. Will the current reliance on the internet, Google, and Smart phones eventually replace original thought? Will we all becomes slaves to TV sitting around all day to the point where we become so passive – in life and as TV viewers – that we can no longer remember what we watched 30 minutes ago?

And, are we unintentionally ruining the heart and soul of our society by attempting to simplify everything with technology, to the point where we don’t have to try at anything in life, and life, therefore, becomes pointless? It all seems a little too possible, and that’s what is so eerie and unsettling about this book.

In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury gives us a picture of what might be, if we are not careful. Then again, it might be too late.

This Post Has Been Viewed 411 Times

Share this: