For a bibliophile and a person who’s good at nothing but reading, the truest Dystopia has to be a world without books. Even scarier would be a world where books are outright banned and the men who dared own them, learn from them and be proud of them are burned along with them.
Fahrenheit 451 possibly needs no introduction. Mr. Bradbury created what is possibly the scariest dystopian world out there. But it isn’t really about books at all. Books are but a tool. It’s about knowledge. It’s about the willingness of the human mind to learn, question and change the world. It’s about what happens when the human mind ceases to desire this and finds extreme comfort in the status quo. Fahrenheit 451 is about what happens when learning is seeing as rebellion, when debating is seen as challenging and progress is seen as unhappiness.
The book explores, in all of 150 pages, the illusion of happiness that is numbness. A numb mind may very well be a happy mind, if at all ignorance is truly bliss. But it isn’t, is it? Ignorance is often willful and there’s only so much a mind can suppress before it builds up and explodes. And so it does explode. It rebels. It demands Thought.
The human mind demands Change.
The scariest part of this book, which also sets it apart from that epitome of dystopian novels, 1984, is that the act of suppressing books and therefore, knowledge, does not originate from the government. It comes from the people. The people got tired of learning and challenging and changing. They craved numbness and illusion. The government merely sensed the opportunity and implemented laws which were happily accepted. And so real content was replaced by meaningless tv shows, movies, songs and melodies which challenged no one. Thought was replaced by careful production which made sure that no one was offended. And so the illusion was created.
Like any dystopian novel, it is very much possible to draw parallels between the world envisioned in Fahrenheit 451 and the world we live in today. All around us, we see people moving away from knowledge. We live in a world where we have an overload of information, flowing at us from every conceivable direction, and a lack of processing power adequate to deal with this massive influx. At some point, the human mind must say “Enough” and stop processing information into knowledge altogether. This is the world enshrined by Mr. Bradbury.
In such a world, and indeed in the world we find ourselves in today, mindless content on television dominates true content. Books which add no value whatsoever to the human mind dominate the ones which ask us to think deep and explore. We spend too much time working ourselves to exhaustion to come back home and pick up a book which would challenge our minds. It is much easier to Netflix and Chill.
Dystopian literature is not scary because it shows you a world which may one day exist. It is scary because the world we live in already displays some of these characteristics, and it is easy to imagine the conclusion of the path we find ourselves on.Fahrenheit 451 represents a generation that chose to become numb rather than happy, just as 1984 represented a world which chose delusion over progress.
These are books that have caught up to us. These are books whose warnings have been ignored. These are the beacons who shine now that darkness envelopes us. Now we take note of them. Now they become the North Star. These are the books which enable us to become Phoenixes. Burn it all and rise from the ashes. But we can’t burn it all. There’s far too much to lose. So we endure and we do the best we can.
Fahrenheit 451 is a must read. Along with Animal Farm and The Old Man & The Sea, it’s one of the shortest books I’ve read and possibly one of the deepest. Packed with a rushed style of writing and metaphors, this is a book which will go on for a thousand pages inside your mind long after you’ve turned the last page on paper. It will change the way you view trivial changes in the world, and the way you react to them. That, in my opinion, is one of the highest achievements for any book.
Review by: Aniruddha Rege