Books are an important part of our society today. Early works sought to show what absences of a reading culture may do to our society. Fahrenheit 451 is a 1951 book written by Ray Bradbury revolving around a young man named Guy Montag who works at the fire department of the city. This fire department to our surprise does not deal with stopping fires but instead focuses on burning books owned by city residents, a directive from the government. Montag who is a middle aged man who is frustrated with his life including his troublesome wife, daunting job and generally all the events revolving around him seeks solace with stolen books which he acquires while at work. Montag's disillusionment is further fuelled when his close female friend Clarisse is brutally murdered and his wife also makes an attempt on her life. The later clearly irritates Montag but the former saddens him as Clarisse used to give him useful advice on life and also give him helpful facts on which to ponder on.
Montag is a man who is clearly disturbed by the actions of their work therefore once after a major "job", he falls sick after he witnesses a woman perishing alongside her books. His superior at work Captain Beatty stops over at his home to check on him and leave him with a few encouraging words. In addition, Beatty informs Montag that he knows that firemen often take some of the books that they burn in people's houses therefore informing Montag that he is aware of his actions of stealing books. As the story progresses, we are enlightened on Montag's secret stash of books in the deep corners of his home. With the threat of his fellow firemen at hand, Montag attempts to memorize all the books that he has acquired over the years in order to preserve the knowledge that they posses. This is all in vain as he fails to grasp the texts written in the books. He seeks the help of his long time friend and book lover Faber. Montag reaches out to Faber to assist him in his predicament.
The irony of this story is shown when sitting with his boss Beatty, Montag comes to realize that his superior has a very good and wide understanding of books and literature himself. In the same breath, the crew is called to a 'job' and Montag is thunderstruck to find out this it is his own home that literary books have been found. In disgust, Montag lets his wife leave and begins to set fire to all the objects in his home. Sparing nothing, Montag burns even his cutlery and clothes and flees to the home of his mentor Faber. Luck turns on him as he manages to escape the persistent police force and the media. The government instructs the media to inform the public that he has been caught. This is in fact untrue as the cops kill a local criminal and make it look like they have killed Montag.
Montag embarks on a quiet life on the countryside and meets fellow book lovers who amaze him with their ability to fully memorize books and in effect internalize their meaning. Soon after, war erupts in the country taking the heat off the likes of Montag. The city that Montag once lived in, and many others, lie in ashes and Montag and is fellow booklovers are drawn to the city to go and rebuild it. The book ends as Montag and his comrades ponder on the state the country lay in and as he alludes to many proverbs and sayings, the most notable is his allusion to the bible verse from Revelation 22:2 which says "..and flowing down the middle of the city's streets. On each side of the river was the tree of life, which bears fruit twelve times a year, once each month; and its leaves are for the healing of the nation." The group led the Lamb and flowing down the middle of the city's street. On each side of the river was the tree of life, which bears fruit twelve times a year, once each month; and its leaves are for the healing of the nations.
The themes brought out in this book go hand in and with the matters discussed in "The Peek-a-Boo World" from Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman "Preface" and "The Mass Other" from On Dialogue: An Essay in Free Thought by Robert Grudin Excerpts from Morris Berman's The Twilight of American Culture, including "The American Crisis" "Group Minds" by Doris Lessing. All of which are related to the content in Fahrenheit 451. Group minds for instance talks of how the thinking of an individual is influenced when amid a group. Lessing (pg.33) argues that when one is in a group, they tend to think as the group does, regardless of the prior opinions or thoughts. We see in the primary text that Mr. Montag does not wish to be part of the status quo. with the government directive that no one should be found or seen reading and possessing books, Montag is ironically part of the team that destroys those books but deep down feels that what he and the government is doing is wrong (Bradbury. pg16). Montag himself finds solace in these books and when he is eventually found with his own pile of contraband books, he flees to the countryside to find his true self and stops living a lie. He refuses the group psychology and boldly embraces his love for books and other literary material.
In the Postman (pg.55) excerpt, The Peek-a-boo world, the author also discusses the effects that television has had on the society. Throughout the book, postman backs his ideas from the theories developed by two scholars, Huxley and Orwell. Huxley argues that what we deem as good is what will destroy us while Orwell sees it different. He argues that the evil in our society is what we should be afraid of. In the excerpt in question, Postman agrees with Huxley, when he says that the things we love are what will destroy us. He talks of the way people have taken technology, the television in particular, to be gospel. He insists that the fantastic life that we see on television is only a lie that is intended to disconnect us from the real world (Postman.pg3). This can go hand in hand with what we see in Bradbury's book. In the text, we see that the society that Montag lives in believes what is shown to them on TV. For instance, when the gang led by Granger is in hot pursuit of Montag ad they do not catch him, media houses are instructed to lie to the country saying that he has been caught and killed. This fact is definitely divorced from reality as Montag is patiently waiting at the countryside for the conflict to subside then come back and rebuild his war torn country. This backs the argument from Peek-a-boo world that the "good" things we see on television might not always be true.
Thirdly the excerpt from Berman's (pg.1) American crisis discuses the reading culture of America. Berman argues that it is slowly slipping away from our hands. Americans are nowadays more interested in their well paying jobs and keeping up with the flashy lifestyle of their local celebrities. Berman comes up with a concept that is known as NMI's (new monastic individuals). Alluding to monks from the dark ages, Berman says that such individuals would be used to preserve literary knowledge and understanding for future generations in case there comes a time when all books and literacy texts are considered irrelevant (Berman, pg22). Berman longs for the American society to re establish their love and appreciation for literature regardless of the advancement in other technologies. This excerpt is a perfect relation to Fahrenheit 451 as Montag could easily be regarded as an NMI. His and his comrade's culture of memorizing books to preserve their content is a perfect example of an NMI whose job is to do the same.
The last except is from Grudin's (pg.8) texts which talk about the need for books to be re-integrated back into society. Grudin insists that for a reading culture to be cultivated, scholars must work hard at getting the system right. Just as a business requires a marketing plan to sell a product, so does the reading world require a strategy for re-integration. Reading will not just be accepted back into the society overnight, but has to be fought for by the likes of Montag who exist in our society today (Grudin pg, 36). All in all, the primary and secondary texts all seek to show us that reading is important and mandatory for our society today. The culture is somewhat fading due to the numerous technologies that are arising left right and center and as Bradbury quotes in Fahrenheit 451 "..television destroys interest in reading literature". We should be wary that we are not blindly swept away by television and forget our literature.
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