As my son sat watching Dora the Explorer, I thought of my recent read of Fahrenheit 451 (1953).
“Say, ‘backpack!’” Dora said.
“Backpack,” Raisin responded.
“Louder!” Dora’s friend prompted.
“Backpack!” Raisin yelled.
And this is just what Guy Montag’s wife (did she garner a name? It slips my mind now) does all day long in Ray Bradbury’s dystopian America: she talks to the television, which responds. How long until our televisions are able to insert our name when they ask us a question? How often does our Facebook family garner priority over calling them on the telephone and actually talking to them in real life?1
Montag’s life alternates between nights with his empty-headed woman and his job as a fireman, which is not, as you may think to put out fires, but to burn books. Books, you see, are full of dangerous ideas that make people unequal when one cannot understand them. In his dystopian novel, Ray Bradbury considers a society that fails to embrace knowledge and the pursuit of it. In his futuristic society, television and other technologies are mind numbing, and reading is against the law. Bradbury seems careful to intimate that the society has become that way because the majority wanted it that way, not because a dictator suddenly changed things: as society gravitated away from reading, they shunned it in favor of the technology.
As with many dystopias, the society portrayed is an exaggeration of the possibilities for own society. Yet, I saw the relevance to our era, especially as I considered my son yelling at the television. As a book lover, I enjoyed watching Montag come to terms with his society. There are also some great bookish quotes the echoed the power of literature I’ve always felt.
There is nothing magical in [physical books] at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they sticked the patches of the universe together into one garment for us. (Professor Faber to Guy Montag , part 2, page 82)
How grateful I am to live in an era where books are so plentiful – and I am able to read them!
Note: I read the Del Rey/Ballantine edition, which I own.
- Disclaimer: I don’t use Facebook, but I suspect my twittering could be comparable to the Facebook obsession… ↩