"You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can't have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, What do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn't that right? .... Well, aren't they? Don't we keep them moving, don't we give them fun? That's all we live for, isn't it? .... Colored people don't like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don't feel good about Uncle Tom's Cabin. Burn it."
And that is precisely what the firemen do, in Ray Bradbury's classic novel of the future, FAHRENHEIT 451. They search out and burn books. It is a crime, in this society, to own or read books. Trivial information, in this culture, is good, and knowledge is evil. People receive all of their culture through television walls that are built into their houses.
Guy Montag is a fireman who loves his work. He likes nothing better than to spray kerosene on a pile of books and watch the pages curl and turn into flakes of black ash that flutter through the air. Until the day he meets Clarisse, a young girl who has been told about a world of books, thoughts, and ideas. Their conversations precipitate a crisis of faith in Guy, and he begins to steal books and hide them in his home.
When his wife discovers what he is doing, she becomes terrified. Eventually she turns him in, and he is forced to burn his beloved collection. Guy flees to avoid being arrested, and joins an outlaw band of scholars who are trying to keep the contents of important books in their heads.
FAHRENHEIT 451 is a brilliant, disturbing novel. It is as meaningful today --- perhaps more so --- as it was when it was written in 1950.
This is Banned Book Week. It is as good a time as any to read this novel, if you haven't read it before. If you have, you might want to take a second look at it, and contemplate a life without books.
Reviewed by Judith Handschuh on January 21, 2011