Thoughts on “Fahrenheit 451”

Unlike when I read “Watership Down”, I remembered nothing about “Fahrenheit 451”. Okay, okay, I recognized that Guy Montag was the name of the main character, but that’s about it. I didn’t remember any of the other characters or even the plot points. It was pretty much like reading a book for the first time, other than my knowing that I had read it before.

The first thing that struck me about the book was how evocative it was. It starts with a description of the main character going about his business as a fireman — which, in this book, means that he burns books as all of the houses are fireproof — with a glee and zest for the work that’s quite impressive. The way it’s written is such that we really feel that we are seeing his inner thoughts and that this is who he really is. This sort of descriptiveness carries on for the rest of the work, but what’s unfortunate is that this event doesn’t really play out for the rest of the book. We don’t see Montag gradually move away from being a dedicated fireman to questioning the idea of it to rebelling. He seems to be at least somewhat of a rebel from the start, and might well have been much more of a rebel than he seemed at the beginning (one or two books) the entire time. So the initial euphoric reaction to book burning drops out pretty quickly, making it an evocative but ultimately somewhat pointless scene.

That’s a common failing in the book, it seems to me. What’s really interesting about it is the backstory and how that produced the world we have, as well as the details of the world. What isn’t interesting are, in fact, the details of Guy Montag’s story and how he goes about joining with those who preserve books. In short, the action scenes and the main plot aren’t all that interesting, but the world that Bradbury creates is interesting. Thus, when the book gets around to moving the plot and doing the action the book gets dull, and when it stops to dump exposition on us that’s when it’s the most interesting. That’s not normally how books work.

The book strikes me as being similar in style and tone to “The Status Civilization”, except Sheckley’s action scenes are more interesting, and Bradbury’s exposition is a little better done and so seems less artificial. I prefer “The Status Civilization”, however.

Ultimately, there’s a reason the book is a classic, as the evocative writing and the excellent worldbuilding make it well worth reading even if the plot and action are a little weak. I’m not likely to rush to read it again, but it’s certainly going to be an option at some point in the future.

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