I reread “Fahrenheit 451” a few nights ago, after learning of author Ray Bradbury’s death.
It had been 35 or more years since I first read the novel. But the words and images (Clarisse rubbing a dandelion under Montag’s chin) rushed back to me as vividly as if I’d opened a shoebox of old photos.
Fahrenheit’s familiar story—about a future society in which firemen burn books rather than save homes—is often confused with government censorship. But that’s way too easy.
The suppression of knowledge in Fahrenheit is self-imposed. Entertainment is the key to happiness, not learning. “Don’t let the torrent of melancholy and dreary philosophy drown our world.”
That’s why Fahrenheit’s characters contentedly plug into their four-wall “televisors” and Seashell “ear thimbles.” They are balms for the melancholy of the real world.
You don’t need a philosophy degree to decode the symbolism. And the parallels to today’s flatscreen-and-smartphone society are obvious. But rereading Bradbury reminded me of an important question:
“In a world filled with information, which information do we choose?”
The firemen of “Fahrenheit 451” are superfluous if we all simply begin burning the books ourselves.