Guy Montag is one such fireman. He lives for the pleasure of burning until he meets a girl who makes him question the purpose of his occupation. Did firemen always start fires, or did they once put them out? Like in Nineteen Eighty-Four, state-sanctioned censorship and the rewriting of history is rife.
Fahrenheit 451 is set against the backdrop of impending nuclear war, but I suspected while reading this novel that it was either a fictional war or a perpetual state of strife that the government encouraged in order to instill fear and obedience into its citizens. A world without writing is a world in which the government can easily dupe it citizens, after all, as there are few ways that dissenters can communicate their doubts and opinions. But rather than a treatise on the sinister uses of censorship by the government, Bradbury is making a statement about that opiate of the masses, television. Human feeling and relationships have given way to parlors lined with massive interactive television screens. Characters on lively and banal shows have replaced family. The Bible, now banned, has been replaced by a televised Jesus who peddles brands alongside his sermons.
Guy Montag, the protagonist, in discussion with Faber, a man who has dared to hold onto his books (p. 82):
"Nobody listens anymore. I can't talk to the walls because they're yelling at me. I can't talk to my wife; she listens to the walls. I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough, it'll make sense. And I want you to teach me to understand what I read."
Faber examined Montag's thin, blue-jowled face. "How did you get shaken up? What knocked the torch out of your hands?"
"I don't know. We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren't happy. Something's missing. I looked around. The only thing I positively knew was gone was the books I'd burned in ten or twelve years. So I thought the books might help."
It's tempting to believe that books are intrinsically noble and forthright creatures. That they improve minds by their mere existence. But Faber replies, "It's not the books you need, it's some of the things that once were in books."
When I read that I got that delightful yes! feeling that comes from reading something that's so spot on. I've always felt that the people and situations contained in books are much more real than representations of reality that are portrayed through film and song. And fiction aside, how could masterpieces like On the Origin of Species be communicated if not through prose?
Fahrenheit 451 is a character-driven novel, which is unusual for dystopian fiction. Often its events that force the main character into action, but in this case it's the people that Montag interacts with. There's something of the Gary Stu/Mary Sue about him, but that's easily forgivable as the rest of the novel is so exceptional. The writing itself is vibrant, almost melodramatic, in places. I enjoy a dialogue-heavy book, and Bradbury's novel has plenty of banter and just enough description. And the climax is just excellent.