September 21st, 2018
The Power of Books
“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning
house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.” (pp 48)
by Juanita Mora
In Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Ray Bradbury transports us into a dystopian world based on the lack of
knowledge as the biggest expression of happiness. When reading this fabulous novel, we enter a
careless and dull world where death or illness are treated by simple technicians who, with the help of
technology, take away a person’s humanity to leave him/her completely empty. In this reality, things
that cause immediate pleasure are necessary for living and society is so ignorant, that it transforms
into a group of people that can be easily manipulated. This world is so ridiculously done, that it has
lost the ability of answering the “why”of things due to the big intellectual limitation. As a result of
this, people have lost their interest in politics, philosophy, arts, and literature is being pursued above
all things. Everything that could ignite a minimum spark of thought or theory would burn in the
flames of purifying fire.
Guy Montag, the main character, is a common fireman who lets himself be carried away just
like anyone else in this society. He never questions anything, he just does what dystopian firemen do
best: fine burning. However, a young girl, Clarisse Mcclellan, turns his world upside down. This
insane and dangerous girl provokes the explosion of all the revolutionary ideas he did not even knew
he had. Montag then is forced to reconsider the meaning of his existence and the role he plays.
Although Bradbury's work is often referred to as science fiction, Fahrenheit has a lot to say
about our world as it is, and not as it could be. “This novel was written in the 50s; a post-war time full
of paranoia, social reconstruction and technological advancement.” (Patai, 2013) It is as if Bradbury
knew what was going to happen in the future. If we evaluate our society now, we can find several
similarities with the world he presents. One for sure, is the control technology is having over people.
Many inventions of this time are reflected in the book and it seems like the author was trying to
express how technology would start the declining point of human morality. “We are in a futuristic
western society where everything is under the influence of the electromagnetic conformity of the
screens” (Patai, 2013). In the novel, we can consider Mildred (Millie), Montag’s wife, as the clearest
example. She represents the alienated average citizen, who sees insipid TV shows as her family and
wanders around plugged in some “seashells” that now we call headphones.
Is a society that has reached total equality, where everyone’s mind is filled with facts and
where everyone has lost their capacity to think a perfect society? Citizens in Fahrenheit 451
apparently believe that happiness and harmony are what best characterize their society. Indeed, terms
such as conformity and mindlessness describes it with more accuracy as “every attempt of utopia
unleashes in a dystopia, because perfection is not sustainable but through force.” (Junguito, 2018) As
in other dystopias, thought control is necessary for the supposed benefit of everyone. In Fahrenheit
451, social control is obtained by the censorship of books. Whoever owns a book in Montag’s society
would be unhappy, and what do they want above all? They want to be happy. But, is the captivity of
the mind the cost of pure happiness?
With this in mind, due to the prohibition of books, there is a distinct lack of knowledge
amongst citizens. Their ignorance has led to the government gaining power as people are vulnerable
because they are not aware of their situation. Along the story Montag realizes that his ignorance has
led him to obey orders he did not even understand. He realizes that there is something wrong with
society and that books may contain the key to freedom. This awareness makes him a dangerous figure
among society but, would books be just as dangerous as Montag? Why are books so dangerous?
Those questions chased me during the whole reading. In the story, the antagonist, Captain Beatty
states; “A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon.” (pp.
56). This shows the fear authorities demonstrate towards those who choose to read, since they know
that reading a book give them knowledge. However, I am not referring to just knowing facts as
knowledge, I refer to knowledge based on analysis and interpretation, something that might cause
independent thinking and hopefully, resistance towards the government's power in this dystopian
society. This is evidenced by the old woman who quoted a book and preferred to commit suicide over
yielding to the authority of the book-burning firemen.
Books are so dangerous because they help us to see “the pores of life” (pp. 79), question the
universe and act based on what we learned from them . Even though what is inside books shows
differences and might not make everyone happy , they give people the power to free themselves and
for the first time leave numbness behind.
Without knowledge, mankind would be close-minded. Knowledge is an abstract idea of
power because it gives us the ability to create. People have different views on what “power” really is.
Some see power as violence or authoritarian rule, but others see power as having knowledge to enrich
their lives and reach freedom. In Fahrenheit 451, society sees power as having rules and order but
other people like Faber, Clarisse, and soon Montag, see power as having what books offer and being
able to understand abstract concepts and quality knowledge.
Personally, I could feel the power of this book as I turned each page. Throughout the story, I started
noticing a feeling of unhappiness and emptiness in myself. Why? Because this book made me think.
This book invites readers to go beyond what is narrated, to go beyond that parallelism that is made
with our world. Stop reading for a moment and think. We still have time. They are not burning them
Bradbury, R., & Gaiman, N. (2018). Fahrenheit 451. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, an
imprint of Simon & Schuster.
Junguito, M. Casa Editorial El Tiempo. (2018, September 24). Si se prohíben los celulares. Retrieved
los-celulares-521495 [consulted September 28, 2018]
Patai. D (2013). “Ray Bradbury and the Assault on Free Thought” Retrieved from http://crw111-s14-
raddatz.wikispaces.umb.edu/file/view/Bradbury.pdf [conslted September 30,2018]
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