Spoiler alert: This review contains massive plot spoilers about Fahrenheit 451.
In a year when readers seem to be turning to dystopias for sanity, there seemed to be no better time to return to Bradbury’s sometimes overlooked book, Fahrenheit 451.
Named after the alleged temperature at which books burn, the story follows Guy Montag, who lives in a world where books are banned, as they are thought to be the source of discord and unhappiness. As a fireman, it is Montag’s job to burn any books that are found. Yet, unhappy in his marriage and unsatisfied with life, Montag finds the lure of books too much to resist – and once there are books in his house, there is nothing to stop the feared Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department from tracking him down.
Fifty years on from its initial publication, growing post-truth, anti-intellectual sentiments in Western society have given Fahrenheit 451 new relevance, indeed in parts with almost uncanny precognition on Bradbury’s part. Many elements come into play during this book: the frustrating loss that comes with conformism; the borderline madness that comes with rebellion; the senselessness that must, after a certain point of tyranny, accompany political hope. Yet, to me, it is the end which is most pertinent in the current climate.
The book ends with Montag encountering a group of wanderers who live under the radar of the law and make it their task to remember books, keeping them inside their brains until the time might come when they could release them again.
The close of Fahrenheit 451 is the most pertinent part to me today, as it contains within it a powerful message that it is possible for the everyman to hold crucial information beyond the grasp of any Snoopers’ Charter or Big Brother-esque organisation. More, what we fear in the face of such voyeurism is not that we will have to hold our darkness beyond it’s reach but, in the face of the successes of politicians like Trump and alt-right growth, that we will have to hold our light beyond their eyes. What if what we hold most dear becomes anathema to the society in which we live?
“We’ll have time to put things into ourselves. And some day, after it sets in us a long time, it’ll come out of our hands and our mouths. And a lot of it will be wrong, but enough of it will be right.”
Fahrenheit 451 answers this fear eloquently and fascinatingly. In the desert beyond constructed society, in the deep depths of our consciousness, humans are capable of hiding everything we hold most precious until such times as we can once again let it out into the light.
This may well prove to be an article of thankless optimism, but my feeling is that the story has a bleakly hopeful ending, with a handful of citizens holding out for the moment when the cycle comes around again. To see change occur, Bradbury implies, all you have to do is wait.