Monday, October 28, 2013

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451. New York: Random House, 1996, originally published in 1953.

Robert M. Woods, "Book Burning Without Fire or Kerosene and Why Scripture is not even Safe: A Christian Humanistic Reading of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

Fahrenheit 451 was the book we discussed in our book group last week. I was surprised that I was the only member of the book group who had read the book previously, and I only read it a year ago. Most of the book was surprised by the book. They thought that the book was all about censorship or book burning. The book group thought that censorship is just one of the themes of the book. They thought two major themes of the book were technology and mass culture. In addition, the group thought the book was more relevant today than it was first written.

It is the interesting that the group did not see book burning or censorship as the primary theme of the book since this is the popular interpretation of the book. Before reading the book, I had always heard that Fahrenheit 451 is a book against censorship. It is interesting that the people stopped reading before the government began censoring the book.

The movie version of the book directed by Francois Truffaut views censorship as the primary theme of the book. For example, an important theme of the book is the alienation between Montag and his wife. This is not shown in the movie. In addition, it does not show the effect of mass culture and technology on the characters of the book. My family asked an interesting question: If people were not allowed to read, how did they learn to read?

An interesting part of the movie is that Montag's wife calls the television her family. Montag responds by saying that his books are his family. Montag's wife tells him he needs to choose between his books and his wife. Montag says it is too hard to decide.

Another interesting part of the movie is Montag wearing a robe late at night when he is reading. The robe looks like something a monk would wear. Is Montag saving books for a future generation like the monks did in their own time?

Woods in his article also disagrees with the popular misconception that sees Fahrenheit 451 "as an example of left-wing social propaganda or preaching a message of hyper-libertarianism against any and all types of censorship" (69). He seems to think that censorship is a minor theme of the book. He actually says it is a "metaphorical" part of the book. Woods thinks that the book contains many humane themes: anti-intellectualism, relational alienation, the quest for meaning and happiness, social literacy, fallenness, and a longing for authentic human community" (70).

Most of the members of the book group did not like the ending. They did not like the way Bradbury left it open on what would happen in the future. I actually like the ending. It shows how the city was destroyed and the book people are heading to the city. (The Book People are people who have memorized an important book of the past and has become that book.)   It is a message of hope that civilization can be rebuilt from the ashes through the knowledge of the great ideas of the past. I will leave the reader with a statement and a question from Woods: Burn Right! What book are You?

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