Authors Note: I noticed after finishing this article a lot of my criticisms were focused on young adult novels that used a dystopian setting rather than actual dystopian novels marketed towards a more literary demographic. I realize that may seem a bit disingenuous and for that my article may seem a bit uninformed. However, I stick to what I believe and encourage everyone to continue reading. I think this is a good article if you consider the fact that the main focus is on the merit of Fahrenheit 451. Thank you for reading and for your continued support.
I think it’s ironic that many students are forced to read Fahrenheit 451 in school despite the fact that in doing so they’re essentially carrying out the antithesis of what the book is actually saying. The novel embraces the choice people have to read and educate themselves. It’s one of the most basic human rights that almost comes naturally. Having that stripped away is where the dystopian aspect of the novel is made salient. In some respects, it’s why the novel still holds up after all this time.
Dismantling the novel’s impetus aside, it’s clear that many dystopian franchises created today take, at least some, inspiration from Fahrenheit 451. It’s clear that the novel was formed as a reaction to the technological boom that occurred in the 1900s, but it still contains a lot of the same motifs seen in dystopian novels written today. Censorship, fascism, conformity, a distinct lack of individualism, brainwashing, these are all common themes rampant within contemporary dystopian stories. However, Fahrenheit 451 somehow manages to break the mold set in place by most dystopian novels today despite being sixty years old.
This is accomplished through several means the first being its core plot device. Something devoid in more recent work like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner is an interesting modus operandi. Too many dystopians focus all their attention on the various elements in the setting rather than a captivating main idea. Now, this is called world building it’s the process of constructing an imaginary world and very important to dystopian novels. However, a slightly interesting dystopian setting is simply not enough to carry an entire novel.
Ray Bradbury does the exact opposite of this and uses the decrepit setting to push the main themes of the novel that was already set in place by the fact all print media has been declared illegal. Does that technically count as world building? Yes, but it serves more than just that singular purpose.
Interesting sci-fi elements like the hound; an eight-legged robotic dog and the seashells; our modern-day equivalent to airpods are just fancy dressings to advance the true plot. However, if this novel were written today, these inventions would probably have a bigger impact on the story. This is also why most dystopian novels written in the present time have very little substance other than the tired “government is bad, people are good” trope so routinely used. In fact, the true villains of Fahrenheit 451 are the people themselves who chose to abolish all printed media. The unofficial antagonist, Captain Beatty explains in his own words the inherent treachery latent within print material:
‘Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo?,’ Captain Beatty says. ‘Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin? Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book.’
There isn’t any totalitarian government established in deep within the lore of Fahrenheit 451 instead the novel exposes the natural progression humanity is moving towards. It’s about the irreversible damage of censorship and the danger that comes with knowledge. Come to think of it, it’s rather alarming how many things Bradbury ended up predicting. Everything from flat-screen televisions, Bluetooth headphones, ATM machines, politically correct culture, drones, you name it. While those things weren’t necessarily invented by Bradbury its certainly interesting to see the role they play in today’s society.
I suppose that’s another issue with present-day dystopian novels; there’s no payoff. Humanity hasn’t seen any of the effects they’ve had on culture until way later and while that isn’t really any fault of their own it’s still a constant factor that spoils their overall enjoyability. One could call that a little unfair, but I think if it really were to have any impact it would have shown some sign of it by now.
In comparison to Fahrenheit 451, the notability is almost unprecedented. It’s has been message spread clearly throughout thousands of school curriculums and its talking points are taken seriously by teachers and students alike. This is where we come full circle and have to remind ourselves what this novel really symbolizes. Some even consider it a novel that changed the course of our future, something Ray Bradbury actually intended to do.
I am a preventor of futures, not a predictor of them. I wrote Fahrenheit 451 to prevent book-burnings, not to induce that future into happening, or even to say that it was inevitable.
This is even more interesting considering the fact his novel has actually been banned by several schools. Whether the intrinsic irony in doing so was unbeknownst to them is unclear but it says a lot about the overall impression this novel has left on the populace. Our futures are safe for now, however, given that we already know history is bound to repeat itself, who can say for how long.
It would seem the cycle of irony continues as Bradbury’s classic is continually adapted into movies and most recently a live-action television show on HBO. I guess some people will just never learn.