Embers of Thought

Reviewed by Rishiraj Pargaonkar, BBA D, Batch of 2024, Kirit P. Mehta School of Law, Mumbai

The absconding beauty of a post-literature novel, the beguiling world of dystopia; Fahrenheit 451 portrays the world of authority and control. It was a pleasure to burn. The opening lines portray the anguish the writer feels from the extinction of critical thought, the incineration of knowledge with giant screens to stare at for eternity. This book is based on a near-future version of America where books are outlawed. Guy Montag, the protagonist, is a fireman whose job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the source of all discord and unhappiness, the printed book. He never questions his menial task of destroying books and igniting a plethora of books.

Ray Bradbury named it Fahrenheit 451 as he believed it is the temperature at which paper catches fire and burns. The novel was written during the McCarthy era of American politics, and Bradbury was concerned about the Communist witch-hunts that were common at the time and the stupefying effect they had on the American cultural scene. The author unveils the plot in almost a cadencing manner; he creates vivid imagery in your head with a verbose description of the most intricate details; something as trivial as a page going up in flame, the author successfully paints a picture in the reader’s head.

Montag broods over his mundane and dreary life and enters a state of abyss questioning everything in his life where emptiness engulfs him and he swims in the agnostic feeling of unfulfillment. Montag has a wife, Mildred, who is obsessed with this virtual prison and spends her day staring at this giant virtual screen where the characters act as a metaphor for family.

As the virtual world becomes more dominant, owning printed books is construed as acts of rebellion; nobody can trace it, alter it, or hack it. When the characters first encounter a book, it befuddles them, and it feels very foreign and alien. The books feel like water in a vast digital desert to them. Bradbury was writing about the dangers of television: he feared that this virtual world would relinquish critical thought. This book is an exemplary work of indictment of censorship policies enforced on individuals everywhere in this world.

The characters in this book reveal how we wanted the world to be this way, we wanted entertainment to replace reading and thinking, how we vote for political and economic systems to fulfill our hedonism more than thoughtful introspection. Watching the books burn was an ethereal experience for the ‘firemen’. The hiss of incinerating pages sounded like the final gasps of hundreds of dying souls. The more books they burned, the more hypnotic it became — a mesmerizing spectacle of pages curling and embers dancing into the void.

Montag thinks about an epoch where people didn’t live in fear. He starts stealing books from his job and hides them. The books become a threat to everything in his life; trying to satisfy his answers through books puts his life at peril.

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