This novel has always been on my guilty list, the classic works that I have not yet read, and I finally read it this week. Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel concerned with censorship in a future American society. The title, we are told in the tagline, refers to the temperature at which books will burn. In Bradbury’s version of America, books have been banned and firemen are tasked with starting fires to burn them. As a former American literature student I saw Fahrenheir 451 as a comment on McCarthyism and the historical image of book-burning to suppress ideas in authoritarian regimes.
The main character is a fireman named Montag who becomes disillusioned with his role in society. Firemen have a key role as they burn books, therefore repressing any ideas that do not match those of the people in power. Montag himself starts to save books from burnings, and comes into contact with an old English professor named Faber with whom he communicates through an earpiece. When he reads poetry to his wife and her friends, he is denounced. His fire crew come to his house, his fire captain makes him start the fire to burn his own house, and the captain finds his earpiece. After this happens he turns the fire on his fire crew killing them. Montag is then on the run.
Montag is chased by The Hound, a robotic dog that is used by the firemen to find books and hunt those that have broken the anti-book laws. He visits Faber, who advises him to find other people in a similar situation as him, all of whom are intellectuals and have memorised books to be published after the regime has fallen. Montag evades The Hound and meets up with these men, and as a group they watch as a war starts. Later one member of the group describes the phoenix to Montag, pointing out that it is similar to humanity in the way that it constantly makes the same mistakes and emerges on the other side afresh, an obvious analogy for war.
As a classic I think this book stands the test of time, and sadly I think even today it can be used as a way of looking at the current political climate. We are being told not to trust the media by Trump and a right-wing group recently attacked a bookshop in London. This book is as important today as it was when published, and for any book lover it is important to read to help understand why we love and need literature so much.