Fahrenheit 451 Introduction
In A Nutshell
Picture it: A future where books are banned and critical thinking is against the law. If you're one of those people who just can't stand school and all its pesky reading and thinking, this might sound like a pretty sweet deal.
Not so fast, Goofus.
You only need to get a couple pages into Fahrenheit 451 to realize this bookless future isn't all sunshine and rainbows. Sure, the dreaded book report might be a thing of the past, but life seems a lot cruddier without Dickens, Tolkien, and The Devil Wears Prada. People are dull, thoughtless, and addicted to TV. The government has a creepy amount of control over the population, plumbers have replaced medics, and firemen no longer put out fires; they start them.
Ray Bradbury first wrote this tale as a short story called “Bright Phoenix” in 1947. The work progressed to adolescence as a novella called The Fireman, and finally became a full-grown novel in 1953. This was Bradbury’s first Big Important Serious Work, though he was already famous for science fiction stories like his 1950 collection The Martian Chronicles. These stories put Bradbury on the map, but Fahrenheit got his name on the literary A list.
Why Should I Care?
To the shock of many, Ray Bradbury has argued till the cows come home that Fahrenheit 451 is NOT about government censorship (no word on whether the cows have made it back yet). In his mind, the novel is about the scary potential for TV to replace books, causing us to forget how to think for ourselves. Back in 1951 (two years before Fahrenheit was published), Bradbury wrote in a letter to fellow science fiction writer Richard Matheson:
“Radio has contributed to our ‘growing lack of attention.’ […] This sort of hopscotching existence makes it almost impossible for people, myself included, to sit down and get into a novel again. We have become a short story reading people, or, worse than that, a QUICK reading people.” (source)
Notice that he made this comment over sixty years ago. Consider what has changed since 1951: Pretty much everything. More than anything, Bradbury seems to fear the speed that technology like the radio and TV offers. We wonder what Bradbury thinks of our world today, what with the Internet, smartphones, and Facebook reigning supreme. One could say his fears have come true: we read at lightning-fast speed.
The New York Times ran a story in July of 2008 about the perils of reading on the Internet:
Clearly, reading in print and on the Internet are different. On paper, text has a predetermined beginning, middle and end, where readers focus for a sustained period on one author’s vision. On the Internet, readers skate through cyberspace at will and, in effect, compose their own beginnings, middles and ends. (source)
New York Times writer Motoko Rich asks us here to consider the Internet’s benefit to our brain, saying that it is used to create our “own beginnings, middles and ends.” Are we, maybe, becoming more creative readers in addition to being “a QUICK reading people”? Is the book dead? Should we care if it is?
Get in on this debate—it’s all about you! And we bet you a million bucks it’s only just getting started. Who knows what new technology lies in wait for us?