Fahrenheit 451

Title: Fahrenheit 451
Author: Ray Bradbury
Year: 1953
Language: English
Pages: 179
Format: I read it as an e-book

The book revolves around fireman Guy Montag who, along with the other firemen, starts fires. Firemen set fire to books, because reading books and owning books is illegal. One night after setting a fire Montag comes home and meets his new neighbor, a 17-girl named Clarisse McClellan. She is something of an outcast because she’s freethinking and spiritual and likes considering philosophical questions and the society they live in is vapid and shallow, and only have the attention span to handle short bits of entertainment. Montag starts talking to Clarisse the next couple of days and she asks him different philosophical questions and he starts thinking. One day when he comes home Clarisse isn’t there; his wife tells him that a car hit Clarisse and she died.

After accidentally reading one line in a book at a fire he steals the book and then witnesses a woman burning herself alive with her books. He then becomes physically ill and calls in sick. It turns out Montag has been hiding books in his ventilation system and he wants to read them to see if they have any value.

Everything seems to spin out of control after that. Montag asks an old English professor, Faber, for help and eventually Faber helps him understand the importance of literature. War breaks out, and due to certain circumstances Montag ends up on the run.

I only describe two of the characters, because there are a bunch of them, and I really, really like these two.

Guy Montag is the protagonist of the story. He is a fireman in a time when firemen don’t put out fires, but set them. Books are apparently too inflammatory and they are illegal. Guy starts off seeming a bit uninformed. He does his job without much question. He walks home one night and meets Clarisse McClellan, who is from a freethinking family. The questions Clarisse asks often start with “why” and she talks about the past. She makes Guy think about his life and what he’s doing. Guy then goes home and finds his wife has overdosed on sleeping pills. The paramedics come and revive her and Guy feels deeply uncomfortable and alienated. Afterwards his wife doesn’t remember the whole thing, but Guy keeps thinking about it. He sees a line in a book during a fire and steals it. The woman who owns the books then sets fire to her own books and burns with her house. Guy goes home with the book and stays at home, sick, for a couple of days. His boss comes by and tells him every fireman takes a book now and then.
It turns out Montag has been hiding books at his house and he wants to read them to find out if there is knowledge in them that he is missing and if the books have value. He promises his wife that he will burn them if they don’t have value.
He also remembers a chance encounter with an old English professor, Faber, earlier, and he seeks out this professor to ask him for help to understand the books. Meanwhile war is brewing and it is dangerous in Montag’s world. People are weird and war seems to be just something that happens to them. It’s insanely weird.

Clarisse McClellan is Guy’s neighbor. She just moved in and she is a 17-year-old girl who lives in a liberal family. I read this book because Hank and John Green are doing a nerdfighter book club and I have seen both of them discuss Clarisse. I definitely come down on Hank’s side. Clarisse might be unlikely, she is well adjusted in our world, and maybe she’s weird and almost impossible, but she’s not really there to be likely. I think Clarisse is there to make Guy question as well. She is there to make Guy think ‘why’ instead of ‘how’ because those are the questions she asks.
To Guy his world is normal, his world is the world he is used to, even though it looks weird to us. He is never going to question it unless someone helps him, so she has to be weird for Guy, to make her stand out. She is there for us as well, because she is like us and she is our voice in the book.

What I thought
I have trouble talking about this book without turning into a gushing idiot, because I really liked it. Earlier when I’ve read modern classics they haven’t really done it for me. I guess I didn’t get them, but this book is freaking awesome. He writes beautifully, he uses an entire paragraph to describe Clarisse’s face, and it’s so spectacularly written. I just really really loved it.
It also freaked the hell out of me because Bradbury wrote it in 1953 and it is eerily like our world right now. It is obviously more extreme, but it is very prescient and that scares me. I feel like Bradbury somehow knew and just thought: let’s totally freak out people in 2012. I really liked it, and I am thinking I might find more Bradbury, because it’s not just the creepiness factor I liked, it’s also his writing. I loved it. Huge thumbs up.