Totalitarian control. Censorship. Loss of Freedom. All of these things are as much of a concern in 2017 as they were decades ago. Since Trump entered office, Orwell’s 1984 has become a bestseller once again. There are growing concerns about government control, “Big Brother” and spying to name a few. However, while 1984 has been highlighted in North America’s conscious, there is yet another perspective that should be considered: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. While not quite as popular as Orwell, Bradbury makes excellent observations about Western Society’s possible downfall.
The world of Fahrenheit 451 is one of entertainment- parlour families shown on large screens in individual’s houses that one can interact with, radio, and the pastime of driving extremely fast for the fun of it. The average citizen has been amused into submission. They have no interest in books. It happened slowly- universities gradually lost all enrolment and therefore closed; schools became places to learn how things operate- not why. Individuals gradually become submissive and they were happy to abide by the illegality of books as they continued to be increasingly entertained. At least, most citizens were.
Guy Montag is a fireman- not a person who extinguishes fires- a person who creates fires largely for the purpose to destroy books and the places that house them. One day he meets 17 year old Clarrise McClellan who is so peculiar she makes Guy question his worldview- especially his definition of happiness and his career choice. He brings these questions home and to work which makes his peers suspicious. His superior, Captain Beatty, comes to comfort him in his doubts about being a fireman – to promote happiness, since books cause unease and unrest in people. Surely they are the detriment to people’s happiness and must be destroyed at all costs. But Montag wonders, how can that be true since his wife tried to take her own life with sleeping pills one night? Surely, there must be a reason why some risk their lives to protect books- like one lady he himself helped burn.
As I read through Fahrenheit 451 I couldn’t help but apply the themes to my own life. I have an entertainment machine in the palm of my hand-my smartphone- and I often use it for mindless dribble more than for educating myself. I look at the party culture of my generation and the inability many of my peers have to think about even the short term future and it saddens me. As I gain encouragement from Bradbury and other writers, I have been changing what I do in my spare moments- listening to audio books in the commute to and from work, taking classes, and so forth. Let’s not be made passive by entertainment, but use leisure for building us up.