The first time I read Fahrenheit 451, I was struck by Ray Bradbury’s remarkable writing. The second time, the breathtaking plot. The third time, the horrific, but modern ideas. I just finished my third time reading Fahrenheit 451, and the full force of the significant meaning hit me. There are so many big ideas in Fahrenheit 451 about children, love, books, and technology. The screen issue popped out to me as soon as I read the book as a real issue that we are still dealing with today. Even though this book was published in 1951, a time when the main electronics were televisions, rotary phones, film projectors, and radios, the idea that electronic devices have a great impact on our lives is still very present, way more present even than it was in the 1950s.
Everyday, when I walk into school, each and every child has her nose buried in an iPhone or computer. If I take a step outside, almost everyone is either talking on the phone, texting, or has their phone tight in their hand.
Today, look outside. How many people do you see with an electronic device? What are they doing with it? Is it getting in the way of socializing with someone nearby? What else could they be doing?
In Fahrenheit 451, the community’s electronic obsession goes so far as to take over their normal lives, leading them to ban books. There are “firemen” who-- instead of putting out fires-- burn books, and the houses that house them. Unlike other dystopian novels, where the government imposed an oppressive rule, in Fahrenheit 451, the public came to believe that books were junk.
“‘Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord,’ said Faber, a rebel who has been sneaking books and reading them, ‘Can you dance faster the White Clown, shout louder than ‘Mr. Gimmick’ and the parlor ‘families’? If you can, you’ll win your way, Montag. In any event you are a fool. People are having fun.’”
Guy Montag, the main character, starts out the book as a fireman himself, burning books day and night. He fools himself into believing he is happy, with his wife, who loves her parlor ‘family’-- a room where all of the walls are covered with TVs, and the characters talk directly to her-- more than him, his job, and his life. Then, he meets Clarisse. She sits at home and talks to her real family instead of participating in the violence that other kids create.. She thinks about things and observes the world instead of watching TV. She is a voice of reason for Montag, and within a couple weeks of
knowing him she changes his thoughts forever.
I am not one to say that electronic devices do not have their advantages. I am working on a google doc right now, with spell check, saving, and deleting. Stone Soup just switched to an online website, probably because it is cheaper, faster, and flexible. In many ways, electronics save lives, open up opportunities, and make things more efficient. There are many times when electronics are used well. There is a difference between writing on a google doc or reading on the Stone Soup website, and, let’s say, playing a video game or looking up random pictures.
The question is, should we let electronic devices replace things we love? Should we let electronic devices replace books? Imagine that you are a scale, you have a device in one hand, and a book in the other. Which one do you choose? Which one weighs more in your life?
Betsy Ziegler says
Sarah, you have so much insight and are a beautiful writer. I am so glad you found a way to relate one of my favorite books to a current issue that has been on your mind. You have inspired me to reread Fahrenheit 451!
Mary Ann Clark says
Everyone in our family read your post, Sarah. It added a new dimension to our ongoing conversation about electronic devices. We’re always trying to figure out how to let them help us, but not control us. It was great the way you made us think more about what we value. We hope that people will read your post, put away their devices for an hour or a day, and be more fully engaged with their families and with this complicated, sometimes even beautiful world.
Your blog inspired me to read Farhernheit 451! Love how you connected a current day issue with a classic novel in such an insightful, intriguing way