Erika's Reviews > Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
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bookshelves: books-read-in-2016

Guy Montag is a fireman in a dystopian world where his job is to burn books rather than put fires out. In this society, knowledge is forbidden. Guy lives an unexamined life, cheerfully torching people’s houses when someone reports them for owning books, and going home to his wife who is so addicted to technology that she barely can function.

One evening on his way home from work he runs into his new neighbor, 17-year old Clarisse McClennan. Clarisse is different from anyone Guy has ever met, and her odd, insightful, and somewhat subversive observations make him uncomfortable. Just before they say goodbye, she asks Guy if he’s happy. The question shocks him and he doesn't know what to say. Later, he thinks:

How like a mirror, too, her face. Impossible; for how many people did you know that refracted your own light to you? People were more often--he searched for a simile, found one in his work--torches, blazing away until they whiffed out. How rarely did other people’s faces take a view and throw back to you your own expression, your own innermost trembling thought? What incredible power of identification the girl had. … How long had they walked together? Three minutes? Five? Yet how large that time seemed now.


Guy only meets Clarisse twice, yet she is responsible for waking him up to the concepts of knowledge, freedom, and autonomy, ideas that are completely lost in the darkness of his repressive life. Soon he becomes desperate to learn what’s inside the books he's burning and eventually sacrifices everything he has in the hopes of preserving the very thing he once so casually destroyed.

This is a very accessible novel with an all-too-prescient take on what happens to a society when people stop reading. One of the things I really liked was the role Clarisse plays. When I read the quote above, it occurred to me that she herself is a kind of living book. A really great one. Rather than acting like one of the self-absorbed zombies that populate Guy’s world, Clarisse teaches him what truly matters. She challenges him to grow and she herself remains incorruptible. Just like the best books.

For me, this novel doesn’t quite have the brilliance and ambition of 1984 but it’s a wonderful classic that deserves to be read.
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Reading Progress

August 31, 2016 – Started Reading
August 31, 2016 – Shelved
September 25, 2016 – Shelved as: books-read-in-2016
September 25, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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Cecily Excellent review, and I like your observation that Clarice is a precursor to living books. Her transformative effect on Montag is poignant and dramatic, but don't forget, he'd already taken the first, tentative steps himself: (view spoiler).


Erika You are absolutely right of course! And with that in mind the description of her as someone who reflects light back to the people around them is even more apt. She blew on the embers of his "innermost trembling thought." And thank you for your compliment on the review! Coming from you, that means a lot.


message 3: by Margaret (new)

Margaret I wonder what future readers, reading on their e-readers, will think about the whole image of burning books. How will all the metaphors have to change?

Technology aside, wonderful review, and the deeper message about those who learn and those who don't abides.


Erika Thanks for your kind words! I have also wondered whether future generations will be able to relate to this novel, and I believe that the ideas will translate regardless of how the technology changes. Limiting people's access to knowledge is a tool of repressive regimes and it seems to me that how that knowledge is stored is secondary.


Cecily Margaret wrote: "I wonder what future readers, reading on their e-readers, will think about the whole image of burning books. How will all the metaphors have to change?..."

Interesting question, but metaphors don't always change: we still dial a phone number, rewind a video and so on.


message 6: by Margaret (new)

Margaret Cecily wrote: "Margaret wrote: "I wonder what future readers, reading on their e-readers, will think about the whole image of burning books. How will all the metaphors have to change?..."

Interesting question, b..."


Right you are. We do use many outdated metaphors, as you cite. Sometimes the metaphors hang in so long no one knows what they were. "The whole nine yards?" It means everything, but what nine yards. Or "toe the line," which is so commonly misspelled as "tow the line." I've even had students tell me it was about pulling boats through canals.

Our e-tech makes books more available and universal (which is a great victory), but also potentially more destructible via power outages/cyber-attacks (which may be a bit paranoid, but I do worry). Books (the ones the book burners miss) are almost hardier. I vote we have it all.


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