Fahrenheit 451 | Critical Review by Everett T. Moore

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of Fahrenheit 451.
This section contains 1,015 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Everett T. Moore

SOURCE: "A Rationale for Bookburners: A Further Word From Ray Bradbury," in ALA Bulletin, Vol. 55, No. 5, May, 1961, pp. 403-4.

In the following review, Moore presents commentary on the themes of conformity and censorship in Fahrenheit 451.

"'The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that!'"

It is Captain Beatty speaking, explaining meticulously how it got started—this job of the firemen of the future, in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. It is the story of the firemen who answer alarms not to put out fires, but to start them.

"Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course. There you have it, Montag. It didn't come from the government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.'"

In Fahrenheit 451, first published in 1953, Bradbury's imagined future was one that seemed to have come about almost painlessly. If there had been those who resisted the soothing tide of conformity most of them were now comfortably out of the way. "'We're the Happiness Boys, the Dixie Duo, you and I and the others,' says Beatty. 'We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought. We have our fingers in the dike. Hold steady. Don't let the torrent of melancholy and drear philosophy drown our world.'"

"'You always dread the unfamiliar,' Beatty explained. 'Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally "bright," did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn't it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man's mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man? Me? I won't stomach them for a minute.'"

We recently asked Mr. Bradbury if the future of civilization would look any less bleak to him if he were writing his book today. His answer was as follows:

"When I wrote my novel Fahrenheit 451 during the years from 1949 to 1953, we were living at the heart of what is known now as the McCarthy era. We were very close to panic and wholesale bookburning. I never believed we would go all out and destroy ourselves in this fashion. I have always believed in the power of our American society to rectify error without having to resort to destruction. Sometimes it takes a long time to swing the pendulum back in the direction of sanity. But the pendulum did swing. McCarthy is dead, and the era that carried his name buried with him.

"Still," Mr. Bradbury added, "I feel that what I had to say in Fahrenheit 451 is valid today and will continue to be valid here and in other countries in other years."

Mr. Bradbury referred to a scene in Fahrenheit 451 which epitomizes the attitude of the bookburners. It is the one from which we have already quoted, in which his fireman hero, Guy Montag, suddenly realizing that for years he had been destroying the mind of his community, pleads illness and does not report for work. The fire chief, Beatty, comes to visit Montag, and, says Mr. Bradbury, "to talk him back to 'health'" with the following rationale:

"'When did it all start, you ask, this job of ours, how did it come about, where, when? Well, I'd say it really got started around about a thing called the Civil War. Even though our rule book claims it was founded earlier. The fact is we didn't get along well until photography came into its own. Then—motion pictures in the early Twentieth Century. Radio. Television. Things began to havemass.

"'And because they had mass, they became simpler,' said Beatty. 'Once, books appealed to a few people, here, there, everywhere. They could afford to be different. The world was roomy. But then the world got full of eyes and elbows and mouths. Double, triple, quadruple population. Films and radios, magazines, books leveled down to a sort of paste-pudding norm, do you follow me?'

'I think so.'

'Picture it. Nineteenth-century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then, in the Twentieth Century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations. Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending.

"Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten-or twelve-line dictionary résumé. I exaggerate, of course. The dictionaries were for reference. But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet (you know the title certainly, Montag; it is probably only a faint rumor of a title to you, Mrs. Montag) whose sole knowledge, as I say, of Hamlet was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: now at last you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbors. Do you see? Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there's your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more.'"

Mr. Bradbury adds, in passing, that the Russians, thinking he had written an exclusive criticism of McCarthyism in the U.S.A., pirated Fahrenheit 451 a few years ago. Published and sold in an edition of some 500,000 copies, the authorities suddenly discovered he meant tyranny over the mind at any time or place.

"In sum," he says: "Russia, too. The novel has now gone underground, I hear. Which makes me, I gather, the clean Henry Miller of the Soviets."

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This section contains 1,015 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Everett T. Moore