Monday, December 1, 2008

Fahrenheit 451: A Young Adult Book Review

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 stands as one of the masterpieces of the 20th century, and for good reason. This book, originally published in its complete form in 1953, can easily be compared to books like George Orwell's 1984, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, the works of Ayn Rand, and, for those of you in the intermediate and middle school grade levels, Lois Lowry's The Giver. This book is so widely loved that it's an often read piece in high school, college, and by adults, who see in it parallels between the politics of book burning and dominating the lives of people and the world we live in now (similar things can also be said about the other dystopic books listed here).

Now, if you're not familiar, dystopia themed literature is about a future in which the world has gone wrong. They often closely resemble, and are sometimes even mistaken for, utopia themed books. The Giver is a book that, in the beginning seems to be a perfect world, but as the curtains are pulled back, society is actually quite appalling and horrific, making it dystopic.

Guy Montag is the protagonist of Fahrenheit 451. He's a man who holds a position of respect in society, he is a fireman. He does not fight fires, he starts them, he burns books. Imagine a fireman carrying a fire hose, but the phrases are both literal, firemen who start fires with hoses that spray fire. Guy is drawn into the world of books, and begins stealing some away. His wife, in the meantime, has become a mindless watcher of TV sitting in the TV parlor watching shows all day in which she interacts with the actors and actresses in a futuristic artificial intelligence.

Early in the book, Guy runs across Clarisse, a sharp witted, free thinking teenager who often wanders around instead of going to school. When Guy asks her why she doesn't go to school, she responds by saying (I will paraphrase this quote to include some of the more poignant parts): "Social to me means talking to you about things like this... or talking about how strange the world is... But I don't think it's social to get a bunch of people together and then not let them talk... we never ask questions, or at least most don't; they just run the answers at you."

In the very same paragraph as the above listed quote, Clarisse makes a quote that can basically sum up education in this future, and, if you're cynical enough, in America. She says: "It's a lot of funnels and a lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom, and them telling us it's wine when it's not."

This book is a timeless masterpiece that can be enjoyed by a sharp minded 15 year old, and anyone older. I recommend this book for a junior or senior level English class, and even then, only with AP students. Use it with students who will look deeper and make those parallels between the book and society, both in the 1950's and now. I also see this book as a great read in a college undergraduate English class or as part of a survey of dystopia themed or politically charged literature. It would work great alongside the other books I listed at the beginning of this article.


winpretda said...

I love your blog, thanks for what you do. Fahrenheit 451 is a wonderful book, good call!

The Buss said...

Thanks for commenting.