Fahrenheit 451: intriguing

October 2nd, 2007

It's always unpredictable when an idea is developed literally to see just how it will be interpreted. Fahrenheit 451's literalism really goes a long way, and eventually to the point where it becomes silly. But it's an interesting plot all the same.

If you've familiarized yourself with 1984 or any derivative thereof (like Equilibrium), you will find yourself right at home. It's hard to know to what extent Ray Bradbury's vision was recreated faithfully, but the odd thing here is the lack of a totalitarian regime. The one authority we relate to is the Fire Department, whose function it is to burn books. The rationale is that books make people unhappy, and therefore they must be destroyed. Mkay.

From 1984 they reused the tv concept, as a propaganda delivery device (not terribly far fetched in our world anyhow). This is also the only reference to a regime in the plot, where they call the nation a family and citizens cousins. But the tvs do not spy on people. 1984 is truly totalitarian in how every aspect of life is controlled. Here it's just the books they don't like. They bring in the owners to be questioned, but there is no sense of torture or death row punishment for the offense.

The culmination of rebellion, is the notion that every person who loves books picks one and commits it entirely to memory. So that instead of *having* the book they *know* the book. This is where the literalism runs wild. They even take it as far as if a book is published in two volumes then two people will learn it and each recite one volume. This idea is put into practice in a pretty odd way, as we just see people wandering around the woods reciting books without much concern for where they are spending the night or how they plan to feed themselves. I can't say that I see the immediate benefit of this lifestyle. After all it's not the literal content of books that is useful, it is the wisdom.

I get the feeling that Bradbury was much in awe of Orwell and decided not to push the envelope here. Orwell's society is masterfully crafted, whereas Bradbury seems to have limited himself to some reasonable subset without trying to connect as many dots. Of course, one can ask oneself whether topping Orwell is even possible. But not trying obviously won't get you there.

An interesting story, but a bit half baked.

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2 Responses to "Fahrenheit 451: intriguing"

  1. erik says:

    I'll leave it then.

    Reciting books in order to save them or pass them on you say? That reminds me of how the Qur'an was initially passed around for generations. All in all this movie seems to be inspired by the weirdest things :D

  2. John says:

    They've made a movie of it?

    I'd agree that it's not a tap on 1984. In fact, I think it's a poor book, though it's worthwhile for its one big idea.

    Orwell described a nation controlled by total surveillance and total control of information. Bradbury figured you didn't need that. Just keep a population ignorant, make them fear and hate sources of information that might stimulate thought, and you get a herd of sheep. As terrifying and insidious as Orwell's vision is, Bradbury's probably looked closer to social satire.

    If you look at how people in Britain fear the MMR vaccine (based on badly reported, misinterpreted early results in a study which ultimately showed nothing to fear), or how many in the US think of the Arab world, it's pretty clear to me that Bradbury's idea was valid, however sloppy the execution.