Smokin’

Fahrenheit 451

By Ray Bradbury

In planning this pessimistic view of the future, Bradbury stripped back all the politics that could have bogged him down and focused only on their effects. The story follows a fireman’s revolt against his role of book burner, in a society where books are banned and proper discussion avoided. And it is these strange, but altogether believable, societal characteristics on which Bradbury focuses. That’s the beauty of this fascinating little novel.

Compared to 1984 and Brave New World, there are no proper politics in this book – and what a virtue! There are no fascists (really), no tyrants, no Big Brother, no Ministry of Truth. There are just the workers charged with enforcing these bizarre laws and a few members of the public, some of whom dissent and some of whom cannot step outside of the hegemony. I can only imagine Bradbury’s temptation to go into detail about how and why this society came to be this way, or about the power at play and the individuals in charge. But he avoids them all, and it is the secret of this novel’s success. The fact that tyrants have appeared, won and lost over and over again means that there’s little point in Bradbury inventing new ones for his dystopian vision. We know enough about past horrors to be perfectly able to fill in the gaps in Fahrenheit 451 and guess enough about the forms of politics. So they’re not necessary.

Instead, Bradbury rightfully centres his novel on one man, caught up in this awful hegemony, his role within it and the existence of his own freewill. The novel is 172 pages long; no more are necessary. In that short time, Bradbury takes us on an exciting journey – and one I’ll never forget.

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