By Benjamin Davis ’26
Written in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 is a deeply insightful novel, provoking the reader to think about one’s true purpose and finding a reason to live. Set in a future dystopian city, Ray Bradbury introduces the protagonist, Guy Montag, as a content, law-abiding citizen who experiences multiple consecutive events that cause him to ponder his existence. Montag is a fireman; an ironic term, as in this culture, firemen are government-hired mercenaries tasked with widespread suppression of unfiltered thought via the burning of books. Trisected, each chapter of Fahrenheit 451 explores Montag’s increasing awareness of the masqueraded horrors surrounding him. Despite being released over half a century ago, Bradbury’s acclaimed opus remains critically pertinent today due to its relevance in our current political climate, where literature and free speech are heavily censored throughout the nation.
Soon after the story commences, a young woman named Clarisse moves into the house adjacent to Montag’s. Though initially presented as odd and eccentric, the newcomer has developed a connection with her worldly environment that most others cannot achieve. Upon seeing Clarisse’s euphoric clarity, a strength that punctures the suffocating totalitarian veil, Montag realizes that a life worth living requires one to be in touch with their surroundings – a contrast to the jaded, illusory nature of a society prioritizing television over all else. The fireman’s novel gaiety is short-lived; however, tragedy strikes, and heightening paranoia begins to affect him. As traumatizing affairs trigger a paradigm shift in the self-made pariah, Montag begins to steal the very books that he has been hired to destroy.
While freedom of opinion and subsequent expression is a central American tenet, censorship is a ubiquitous fog that permeates every aspect of our civilization on either extreme of our political binary. Bradbury was inspired to write Fahrenheit 451 after the horrific burnings of countless volumes in Nazi Germany; but both Democrats and Republicans have their own more covert, subtle means of achieving the same result as Hitler’s radical regime. On the left, cancel culture is a controversial but effective method of ostracization that limits well-known figures from voicing their stances on many issues; on the right, numerous works have been banned from schools, causing students to miss out on important historical lessons and modern problems. Even though the United States is advertised as a country that prioritizes the people, the government has a surreptitious clamp on the public mentality.
Regardless of its fictional status, Fahrenheit 451 speaks volumes about present reality, continuously misinformed and smothered behind the veneer of a first-world utopia. It cites the sheer merit of knowledge’s pursuit, and how an uneducated society is a numb society. As tech and industry evolve, the general need for learning is gradually diminished, and the uncannily applicable tale strongly warns against taking an unambitiously passive approach to life. Bradbury thought that a sense of connection with nature, of hereness, is the greatest value one can have. As he concludes Fahrenheit 451, he writes, “[Montag] stood breathing, and the more he breathed the land in, the more he was filled up with all the details of the land. He was not empty. There was more than enough here to fill him. There would always be more than enough.”