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… ↩
Such a great post with so much to think about. I haven’t read this since, oh I think like 8th grade. Time for a reread!
Pam (@iwriteinbooks) » I hadn’t read it before, but I did see the movie! I liked that too.
I love this book! The opening paragraph(s) contain some of the best imagery. It was always one of my favorite books to teach; I always re-read it with my students and didn’t mind doing so. Your point about technology/TV is spot on. Great post! It makes me want to re-read now. 🙂
Kim » the whole Dora realization was a bit scary coming right off of reading this book 🙂 I think it would be a great classic to teach, not too intimidating and very intriguing.
This is one of my favorite books! It’s one that I appreciate more each time I read it!
Becky » I liked it very much! So much bookish love in it!
God it’s been years since I read this book. I don’t remember the first thing about it, but I do love Bradbury’s short stories. I need to reread!
Jenny » I haven’t read his short stories! Sounds like I should?