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The warning in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”

Ray Bradbury is one of the best writers of our time, our parents’ time, and our grandparents’ time. His works have influenced generations of readers who became fans and went on to become epic storytellers themselves, like Steven Spielberg, the director of films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.. Bradbury was, and still is, a muse for writers of all ages. He lives on through his legion of fans. In the world of science fiction and fantasy and imagination he is immortal. One of his absolute classic works of literature is Fahrenheit 451.

Fahrenheit 451 is a brilliant, but terrifying novel of a post-literate future. Like his collection of short stories, The Illustrated Man, Bradbury combines poetic prose with his uncanny insight into the potential of technology in Fahrenheit 451, which manages to both dazzle and shock its readers.

Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the source of all discord and unhappiness: the printed book.

Montag never questions the destruction or his own bland life, until he is shown a past where people didn’t live in fear and a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

Montag begins to question everything he has ever known and starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life.

In a typical post-literate future style, Fahrenheit 451 is up there with George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, all with a similar message about Western civilisation’s enslavement of media, drugs, and conformity.

This powerful work of literature has similar themes to that of the previously mentioned other novels, including censorship, knowledge vs ignorance, technology, and dissatisfaction, which makes it a fair testimony to the universal appeal of Bradbury’s work. Fahrenheit 451 is a marvellous, if mostly dark, quilt of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

In this special 50th anniversary edition, Bradbury’s introduction explains that even though he knew at the time his book was “crammed with metaphors”, he didn’t really understand himself exactly what they were or the impact the story would have in the future. He was, simply, as his friend Federico Fellini advised, plunging “ahead and seeing what your passion can reveal.”

However, whether he meant it or not, Bradbury has included a very real and alarming message in Fahrenheit 451 which, with the ever-advancing technology of today’s age, is more important than ever. Bradbury shows us what to come of our future if we do not heed this warning and take it seriously.

Bradbury uses Fahrenheit 451 to warn us against the large-scale desensitisation of society due to technology. Throughout the novel he insists that today’s passive lifestyles consumed with modern conveniences (such as cars, televisions, mobile phones and voice-command technology) can erode culture, emotional fulfilment, critical thinking, and, even, happiness.

From the outset, it could be easy to categorise this novel as just a story about how television destroys interest in reading culture. Considering this book was originally written in 1953, it was a very accurate prediction. Most people of today’s age would rather watch something on TV, films or even would much rather watch a film adaptation of a book.

But really this story is much more than that. Bradbury is known for not being a fan of televisions, describing it as something that “gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was.” In other words, spreading factoids instead of knowledge, and giving you so much useless information that you feel full on irrelevant knowledge and miss what your actually supposed to be taking from something, missing what the actual facts are.

In this way, we can see through Fahrenheit 451 that Bradbury believed that people were being turned stupid by television.

“With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be.”

― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

This line of thinking isn’t a radical one, but rather one that isn’t taken seriously enough. There are loads of works of literature that heed the same warning, the most recent being Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games, which warns us of the consequences if people continue with difficulty to find the difference between entertaining television shows and reality. She accurately uses The Hunger Games as a mirror of our current society – reflecting what our culture will be like and warns us of the situation we may find ourselves in 100 years from now. The same way Bradbury did 55 years prior.

That’s not to say that television and other similar technologies don’t have their positives and advantages – they absolutely do. However, we need to make sure that they don’t start to run and influence too much of our lives.

People should open their eyes to the inevitable messages being screamed out from within Fahrenheit 451 (and other stories like the forementioned 1984 by Orwell and Collins’ The Hunger Games). People of this generation hopefully will not accept and embrace the potential monster that society is slowly turning into. That is one thing we don’t want. That is the one thing Bradbury is warning us about.

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