I’ve been wanting to read this book for many years – at least ten. I was never assigned to read it in high school, but I bought myself a copy my senior year. I think I read about 5 pages and then somehow lost the book. Since I never got around to reading it, it was a perfect candidate for The Classics Club.
I’m sure most people are familiar with the basic premise – that we are in some dystopian future, where books are outlawed and firemen (yes, firemen) are charged with burning books rather than fighting fires. Our hero, Guy Montag, is a fireman who is secretly hoarding books as he wonders how his life has become meaningless, with a zoned-out wife who takes too many sleeping pills and can’t tear herself away from giant screens showing inane programming.
So off to tramp in the woods goes Guy, with a bunch of other guys, memorizing books written by guys. Not sure how they’re going to populate their hoped-for enclave of intellectualism after the first generation dies off, as there’s nary a mention of any uterus-havers. Minor problems.
Anyway, I read it.
“Bradbury was famously an irascible critic of “political correctness,” so perhaps he would have found it ironic that it was Captain Beatty’s treatise on “political correctness” in Fahrenheit 451 which really started my thinking on the difference between “political correctness” and meaningful sensitivity to marginalized people:
Now let’s take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don’t step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did.
…Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. 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. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. Take your fight outside. Better yet, into the incinerator.
This, I knew from the first time I read it, was wrong—though I wasn’t certain precisely why yet. What I knew, viscerally, but could not articulate as a teenager, was that disappearing materials that reflect institutional harm, without or instead of any examination of systemic bias, is a solution to legitimate criticism of privilege, not a solution to harm. And trying to find a solution to legitimate criticism of privilege is the real partner to the anti-intellectualism also at the root of the tyranny in Fahrenheit 451,not the imagined (even by its author) solution to harm.”
Have you read this? What did you think?