02 September 2012

Fahrenheit 451

My son, Jackson, is completing a school assignment. He was required to read a book over this past summer that I have read, and then discuss it with me. We discussed several books, but decided on Ray Bradbury's book, Fahrenheit 451. I reread the book and rediscovered why I love it so much. Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors.

Part of the assignment requires me to answer ten questions about this work: five of the questions are from the assignment, and five of the questions Jackson developed for me to answer (Jackson also had five questions to answer from the assignment, along with five questions I developed). Below are the ten questions about Fahrenheit 451 I answered for Jackson (citations refer to the 1995 paperback edition by Simon & Schuster):


1. Why did you recommend for me to read this book?
Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors, and Fahrenheit 451 is one of his most profound works. A close read of this book shows that he predicted how technology misused can keep us from contemplating important questions about life. In doing this, it can be used to take away our freedoms, such as freedom of the press. Also, although he presents a dystopian view of the future, a "Dark Age" (p.146), he also shows that there is hope without rejecting advances in technology.

He also warned how the media could lead to people voting based on political sound bites rather than by making intelligent decisions (p. 52); how children could be required to attend school at an earlier and earlier age not to learn, but to be occupied so they would not learn to think (p. 57); and he even described a form of ATMs (p. 88).

2. What made this book memorable to you?
Ray Bradbury shows us in this story that we must not fear ideas, even ideas with which we have strong disagreements. Thinking and discussing the merits and drawbacks, the strengths and weaknesses, the good and evil in ideas is the way to reveal truth and expose falsehood. It takes courage to be willing to consider an opposing idea. He notes that, "It's not books you need, it's some of the things that once were in books" (p. 78).

3. What is your favorite part?
Granger, because he has the courage and patience to rebuild society.
"It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime" (p.157). This passage reminds me of how God created Adam to be a gardener in the Garden of Eden in the Book of Beginnings (i.e. Genesis). This is metaphorically what God created us to do (being a gardener is the metaphor; people actually have different kinds of jobs, but are meant to be gardeners at heart in each of these jobs).
I love the description of the last society of exiled scholars, and how human society is part Ecclesiastes/rising and declining, and part Revelation/hope (p. 153 & 158). My favorite book in the Bible is the Book of Revelation because it is about certain hope because of God. Yes, there is hope because God has a plan that will not be thwarted.

4. To you, what is this book really about?
It is about really living, not just merely living. Really living means we must be free from tyranny and free to be what God made us to be; and freedom must be earned and respected. Freedom will fade when people cease to exercise their minds in order to pursue constant entertainment and pleasure. The result then is an unhappy life, and eventually death. Notice how people in this story commit suicide because they have nothing to live for, even though they are constantly occupied with work, entertainment, and immediate pleasure. Happiness and pleasure are not the same thing.

What is the author saying to you?
Bradbury reveals to me that people brought about this society in this story, and that it was not imposed on them originally by the government. Therefore, we should not blame the government for what we create (p. 55 & 83). We must take the responsibility to read, learn, and think for ourselves, or else we will surrender our freedom in order to pursue immediate entertainment and pleasure.

5. What did you think I might learn from this book?
I hope you learn about the dangers of suppressing freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and religion. Political correctness is a modern attempt to suppress these freedoms, and it is becoming more prominent in our society. I also hope you learn how important it is to take time to contemplate important things in life so that you do not let other people put you into a state of mental slavery.

6. How do you think the story, as well as the message of the story, would've changed if books weren't illegal? Like maybe they died or were heavily looked down on.
Because more people could read, more people would read. That is why freedom is so important. Many people will not take the time to consider what is really important in life, and even fewer allow themselves to be challenged by opposing ideas. Yet, if we have our freedoms secured (1st Amendment to the US Constitution), the opportunity is there, and some of us will do this.

7. Do you think something like this could happen in the future? Please explain why/why not.
Absolutely. Today, the misuse of the internet, video games, television, can all lead to this type of society. Also, our jobs demand so much of our time with busy-work (i.e. work that adds little value to the product or service being produced), that we can easily become the society Bradbury depicts in this book.

8. How did Montag being a Fireman help make the story more interesting?
Today, Firemen preserve buildings and save lives. They are heroes who risk their lives to save other people (e.g. the firemen who died in the World Trade Center twin towers on 9/11/2001). In the society depicted by Ray Bradbury, Firemen destroy freedom by burning books, and they kill people who keep books. That is ironic, which made the story more interesting to me. “’Those who don’t build must burn’” (p. 85).

9. Who was your favorite supporting character and why?
Granger. He had the courage Faber lacked at first to try to preserve knowledge at the expense of his own comfort. Faber finally got this courage, but Granger understood that the Dark Age would end, and men and women like him would rebuild society. I liked how Faber found his courage, though.

10. What are the benefits of reading and how could books make a comeback over technology, or how could they co-exist?
When we read, we are exposed to ideas that can hit us. As Bradbury says, “If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn” (p. 100).  He also notes that with books, “You can shut them, say, ‘Hold on a moment.’ Yes, they can co-exist with technology as long as we master technology and not let it master us and make us slaves. In fact, modern technology helps us preserve books. It is harder to “burn” books that are saved electronically.

- Dad


If you want to read a profound book, I highly recommend Fahrenheit 451. It holds up over time!