Title: Fahrenheit 451
In an American future envisioned in 1953 (that is remarkably prescient for our lives today) firemen don’t put out fires but rather act as a kind of totalitarian police force rushing to create a show by burning books (that’s not the prescient part). The protagonist, Montag, begins to question the system and after being caught stealing and reading books goes on the run.
Ages 12 and up
Some of the themes and violence may be challenging for younger readers but as the story develops it becomes a thrilling adventure as Montag is hunted by the mechanical hound. What can be interesting for parents and kids to explore are Bradbury’s themes of how media, particularly television (and by extension the Internet), can erode human relationships.
Despite the irony of occasionally being banned for the wrong reasons parents should know that there is some violence. (61 year old spoilers!) Montag kills Captain Beatty by burning him, a woman commits suicide by burning with her books, and the mechanical hound kills at least one person.
Bradbury can sometimes come off as a crank complaining about television and the overwhelming pervasiveness of media but this is the real theme of the story. Book burning is simply a metaphor for the loss of ideas in his dystopian future. A future that resembles ours with giant flat-panel televisions, ear buds, social media, automatic teller machines, and the 24-hour news cycle. Everyone staring at their smart phones, while not a specific Bradubury prediction, is a good image to convey the basic idea behind the alienation his characters are experiencing at the hands of the media and their devices. I think its very telling that we have to pass laws against texting while driving to protect people from themselves and their devices. The most accurate prediction was around human behavior but it’s really just an observation extrapolated into a future full of the devices we can’t live without. When Bradbury wrote the original short story that Fahrenheit 451 was based on television was a rare novelty but it was apparently easy to see how people were obsessed with radio and movies and all he needed to do was expand that into whatever new technologies he saw coming. The really frightening thing about the book is how relevant it is to our lives today. We don’t have firemen burning books but we have a lot of the rest of it. This is Fahrenheit 451. Welcome to the future.
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