Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

May 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

I think it’s in our human nature that we are, in one form or another, rebellious. It may not sound like a very nice thing to admit, but still, we’re all rebels at heart.

Fahrenheit 451 itself is a rebellious book. It was when Bradbury wrote it, and for some reason, it’s still considered a “controversial” book even up till now. And you would think that in this day and age, we’d stopped being so uptight.

Fahrenheit 451 is about firemen and banned books and a society where reading and literature is dead. But it’s also about us, about how we live and think.

I liked it when Montag didn’t know what he was doing, or why he was doing it, when he “stole” a book he was supposed to burn. I liked it because it reminded me of myself, of that feeling deep down inside. It’s exactly like telling me, “Don’t touch that,” and that’s exactly what you can expect me to do. It’s just this immense curiosity, a surge of desire to rebel, to stand up against authority.

But then again, the book is really about banned books and burning them. It’s about a society that no longer has any hunger for knowledge. And the parts that described the books being burned, well, they were painful.

“Last night I thought about all the kerosene I’ve used in the past ten years. And I thought about the books. And for the first time I realised that a man was behind each one of the books. A man had to think them up. A man had to take a long time to put them down on paper. And I’d never even thought that thought before.”

“Sit down, Montag. Watch. Delicately, like the petals of a flower. Light the first page, light the second page. Each becomes a black butterfly. Beautiful, eh? Light the third page form the second page and so on, chain-smoking, chapter by chapter, all the silly things the words mean, all the false promises, all the second-hand notions and timeworn philosophies.”

It’s a curious book, this one. For such a small volume, it took me an unbelievable amount of time to read and digest. Maybe I wasn’t quite used to the language, it was a little odd for me, comparing with the books I usually read. I wouldn’t say it was difficult, just quite odd.

And then it became a challenge for me, because that meant I had to read it slowly enough to make sure I didn’t miss little clues hidden, maybe, in between the lines. And I realised, maybe I’m just so used to getting information in short, matter-of-fact nuggets that I just don’t possess the literary skill required to read proper books anymore.

Is that what our world is coming to these days? A world where we’re all just so busy with everything that we don’t pause, or slow down enough to enjoy things for what they really are? Are we adapting everything to cater for shorter attention spans? Is this the way literature dies?

But surely, literature will not die, not unless people stop reading, altogether. No matter how people try to ban certain books from being read (which, in Malaysia, it so happens that books are banned at quite a high rate. Most recently a book by a lesbian Canadian Muslim has been “questioned”), it’s only when the people themselves decide that it is no longer important to read, that we truly lose literature.

“Because you don’t have to burn books, do you,” Bradbury would ask in 1993, “if the world starts to fill up with non-readers, non-learners, non-knowers.”



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