In the world of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 it is a crime to own a book. Since its publication Bradbury’s novel has been hailed by literary and science-fiction communities alike as a masterpiece; standing alongside the works of Orwell and Huxley in their dark predictions of the future.
Despite writing twenty seven novels, winning innumerable awards and even having an asteroid named in his honour (9766 Bradbury – evidently sci-fi writing has its perks) the news recently emerged that E. L. James’ erotic phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey has officially sold more copies than the accumulated total of Ray Bradbury’s entire back catalogue. A statistic which almost seems to reflect the appetites of society in Fahrenheit 451 – where didactic, creative literature is shunned in favour of pure pleasure.
Bradbury’s dystopia provides an alarming and damning exploration of the idea that ignorance is bliss. Firemen patrol the city armed with hoses of kerosene, incinerating books and persecuting those who conceal them; their role of protection perversely inverted to one of total destruction. Fireman Guy Montag obediently performs this service, relishing his power, until a chance meeting with a young girl named Clarisse unsettles his resolve. Montag evolves from a defender of the regime to an active dissenter. Seduced by the potential of literature, he experiences a drastic awakening, suddenly aware and repulsed by the psychological numbness of the society he served.
Written in the 1950s, the themes of Fahrenheit 451 are still incredibly relevant today. Bradbury’s world seems to prophesise a society enticed by materialism. His accuracy of prediction is at times slightly unnerving, themes of technological enslavement and resulting stagnation in society permeating Bradbury’s novel, reflecting many concerns immensely significant to modern life. His language brims with colourful metaphor and powerful description, invoking the message of literature’s worth in his own literary style and leaving the reader convinced by his passionate belief in the power of the book.
Bradbury writes that “good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over” us. In its complex and dynamic characters, Fahrenheit 451 captures the precise thoughts and fears of a generation surrounded by a rapidly changing world. Whether Fifty Shades of Grey will retain such poignancy in fifty years time remains to be seen but after half a century Fahrenheit 451 is still an immensely engaging, affecting and thought provoking novel.