opinion

Fahrenheit 451: Some Burning Thoughts

For the most part, reading books for English class may be described as a chore, a redundancy, or a task to be pushed to the night before the test. Sometimes, it may not even occur at all, thanks to our trustworthy buddy Sparknotes, who still thinks themes are three-word phrases. But I read every book assigned to me, sometimes to delight, sometimes to disdain; this time, my latest book to read was Fahrenheit 451, a canon of American literature, the pièce de résistance of the acclaimed author Ray Bradbury. Thus, I have already read it two times before this year, but, as all of my English teachers say, every time one re-reads a book, one will spot something different. This time, I fell in love with Bradbury’s mastery of stringing together just the right words…

From page one I realized how delicate and poised the language is. Bradbury artfully ties together unique similes, beautiful metaphors, and engaging dialogue. I don’t drag my eyes, I prance from line to line in delight, my mind spinning around as I absorb the beauty that lies between the lines of prose; I find poetry of the imagination, paintings from my memory, sightings from my perspective.

Some examples:

“This book has pores. It has features… You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion… So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless” (79).

“The way the clouds moved aside and came back, and the way the stars looked, a million of them swimming between the clouds, like the enemy disks, and the feeling that the sky might fall upon the city and turn it into chalk dust, and the moon go up in red fire” (88).

“Mildred ran from the parlor like a native fleeing an eruption of Vesuvius. Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Bowles came through the front door and vanished into the volcano’s mouth with martinis in their hands. Montag stopped eating. They were like a monstrous crystal chandelier tinkling in a thousand chimes, he was their Cheshire cat smiles burning through the walls of the house” (89).

“[T]he old man would go on with this talking and this talking, drop by drop, stone by stone, flake by flake… [H]e would not be Montag any more, this old man told him, assured him, promised him. He would be Montag-plus-Faber, fire plus water, and then, one day, after everything had mixed and simmered and worked away in silence, there would be neither fire nor water, but wine… And one day he would look back upon the fool and know the fool” (99).

“There was a crash like the falling parts of a dream fashioned out of warped glass, mirrors, and crystal prisms. Montag drifted about as if still another incomprehensible storm had turned him” (108).

“It [the house] bedded itself down in sleepy pink-gray cinders and a smoke plume blew over it, rising and waving slowly back and forth in the sky… the great tents of the circus had slumped into charcoal and rubble and the show was well over” (111).

“Montag caught it with a bloom of fire, a single wondrous blossom that curled in petals of yellow and blue and orange” (114).

Also invigorating were the connections I made with myself and my world; the dystopian society lacking in any depth at all, seems too close to home. In the fictional setting of the novel, Americans no longer read any print material; instead, housewives fill their time with interacting with their “parlor families,” displayed on all four screens in its own room. Cacophonic and vapid, the parlors allow not an iota of thought, for it’s simply responding to the prompt given. Likewise in today’s society, we have become more vacuous, constantly focusing on the newest cat video or latest meme to break through.
Instead of pondering, thinking, wondering, we are tweeting, snapping, and browsing. Sooner or later, we may become like the insipid simpletons found in F451, a scary thought to behold.