“We have everything we need to be happy but we aren’t happy. Something is missing…”
Ain’t that the truth.
I feel like there is a lot of misconception around this book. When I first picked it up I thought I was reading a book about government censorship but then I read from other places that it was a book about people craving oblivion as an alternative to unending uncertainty but after having read the book I can say that it is both.
The novel deals primarily with the burning of books, an action which has captured the imagination of many who grasp the destructiveness of it but unlike most cases in which this occurs in fiction the desire for censorship doesn’t come from some secret government faction. No, it is the people who want all the chaos in their lives to stop and the only real way of doing that is to remove thought all together.
Books are store houses of thoughts and thoughts are intrinsically oppositional so the only way in which they can stop thinking is by destroying all the books and muddling all the rest of their senses by constant empty stimuli though TV and Radio. But while it is the people from which the desire arises it would be completely incorrect to say that it is a decision taken by the people. Everyone has the desire to feel safe which is why religion is so popular, but it is only by putting yourself outside this desire that it can be used against people, which is what the government in this case does.
It capitalizes on the fears that everyone has and offers them salvation in the form of oblivion and in so doing ensures that the people are docile and willing to go along with anything that the government does, anything to let them continue to feel safe.
But every thought, even the desire to not think, needs an enforcer which is where the Fireman come in. In the novel Fireman, instead of putting out fires actually start them. they are responsible for burning any remaining books. Guy Montag, the protagonist of the novel is one of these enforcers till he is shaken out of his apathy by the eccentric Clarrise.
I don’t want to go into the story too much because I don’t think its necessary. Suffice it to say that coming to the realization that you are living in a fictional world that you unknowingly assented to is a startling experience but it is the greater message which is the focus throughout.
It isn’t one force that imposes fascism and Bradbury shows that as much as we would like to believe otherwise we are often just as responsible as the government in trapping ourselves and others.
This book took me far too long to read considering how good it was. Initially I didn’t know what made it so trying to read and it was only near the end that it struck me. The novel, like Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea” is one giant illustration of a point which in the case of Ray Bradbury is what he thinks is wrong with society. It is such an involved idea and executed in such a short span that it sacrifices a lot in terms of developing characters or a story line that the reader can invest in. In any other story having characters that were more tools than anything else would have been a fatal flaw but Bradbury manages to create possibly the only situation in which it doesn’t matter.
The characters for the most part remain as stand ins for different segments of society and how we react in times of crisis.
Trying to depict such a significant topic in such a short novel is almost insane and the fact that Bradbury manages to do it is very commendable. The writing throughout captures the sentiment of the novel. It often transitions from staccato apathy to poetic lines showing the disconnect and the underlying need to break free from the empty living which is seen as being “happy”.
There are some parts that might seem rushed such as the last chapter but I was willing to overlook that because it felt as tense as the situation warranted.
I confess that by the end of the book I was nearly in tears but it wasn’t because of the characters, it was because in spite of the horror of the situation the novel is so impossibly optimistic. It seems so odd but Bradbury’s novel gives a testament to the resilience of the human spirit even when people seem like they want to give up.
Being the pessimist that I am I couldn’t help but disagree with a lot of what the author seems to imply about humans but I none the less I was touched by the strength, beauty and sincerity with which the message is delivered.
I apologize if this review was a bit more heavy than the ones I’ve done so far but in this case I really felt it was necessary. I would have probably loved this book more had it been a couple of hundred pages longer so that I had time to dive into the scenario deeper but the work is undeniable beautiful and I can easily say that it will be a novel that will stick with me for a long time.
Rating : 4.35 stars