Ray Bradbury on burning the truth
Ray Bradbury on burning the truth

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), a writer who is one of the top ten outstanding American masters of the 20th century. His novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953) is one of the most famous dystopias, united by the fact that they paint the future as a totalitarian system in which a handful of "chosen ones" dominate the world. And their dominance is expressed, first of all, in the purposeful destruction of everything human in man.


In his novel, Bradbury showed a totalitarian society in which a person is destroyed through the burning of old books. Bradbury researchers believe that the novel was inspired in part by the burning of books in Nazi Germany. Some believe that Bradbury allegorically reflects the events in America in the early 1950s - the time of rabid McCarthyism, persecution of communists and all dissidents.

At the end of his life, the writer himself said that the threat to good books is presented by the intoxicating media, which have become a means of exterminating the remnants of traditional culture.


In the epigraph to Bradbury's book, it is said that the ignition temperature of paper is 451 ° F (233 ° C). The novel describes a society where all thought-provoking books are to be destroyed. They are being replaced by comics, digests, pornography. Reading, even keeping prohibited books is a crime. People who are capable of critical thinking are under suspicion. Surely they have read and continue to read "harmful" books. Sometimes not only books are burned, but also the dwellings in which the books were found, and their owners find themselves behind bars or in an insane asylum. From the point of view of the authorities, the owners of the books are dissidents and insane: some do not leave their homes on fire, preferring to burn with their books.

The author depicted people who have lost touch with each other, with nature, who have lost their historical roots, cut off from the intellectual and spiritual heritage of mankind. People rush to or from work, never talking about what they think or feel, they only talk about meaningless and empty words, they admire only material things. At home, they surround themselves with television monitors, many of which are wall-sized, as they are called: TV walls. They are very reminiscent of modern flat-panel liquid crystal displays. And in the early 1950s, when the novel was being written, only the first generation of tube TVs with cathode ray tubes and a screen size of no more than ten inches appeared on the market. Incidentally, TVs at "Fahrenheit 451" show pictures "in color and volume." And if color TV had already appeared in the United States in the year of writing the novel, then Bradbury foresaw the emergence of a 3D three-dimensional image system.

Technical means provide people with communication with other owners of monitors, immersion in the virtual world. One of the heroines of the novel Mildred (the wife of the protagonist of the novel Guy Montag) is in a room almost around the clock, the three walls of which are television screens. She lives in this world, dreaming of turning the last free wall into a TV screen. A very good image of "voluntary self-isolation".

In addition to flat-panel TV monitors, the novel also mentions television transmitters, with the help of which people can communicate with each other at a distance. Something like Skype. The heroes of the novel stick in their ears a radio receiver-bushing, reminiscent of modern headphones and Bluetooth headsets. Bradbury also has analogs of mobile phones. All people are under an electronic video surveillance cover. Very reminiscent of Orwell's novel, in which numerous shields warn citizens: "Big Brother is watching you."

One of the heroes of the novel is Beatty, Guy Montag's boss, who is a fire brigade chief. Beatty fully understands the meaning of his firefighting activities.He is a cynical philosopher, very smart, knows everything. He believes that the point of destroying books is to make everyone happy. He explains to Montag that without books there will be no conflicting thoughts and theories, no one will stand out, become smarter than a neighbor. And with books - "who knows who can be the target of a well-read person?" The life of the citizens of this society, according to Beatty, is free from negative emotions, people are only having fun. Even death was simplified - now the corpses of the dead are cremated in five minutes, so as not to bother anyone. Beatty understands where their world is heading, but his choice is to adapt.

Even more typical for a dystopian society is the wife of the protagonist Mildred. On the example of the relationship between Guy and Mildred Bradbury, he shows that the family has already ceased to exist. Husband and wife are immersed in their lives, they are completely alienated from each other. Guy Montag confesses: “I need to talk, but there is no one to listen to me. I cannot speak to the walls, they yell at me. I can't talk to my wife, she only listens to the walls. I want someone to listen to me. " Guy and Mildred have no children, as Mildred is totally against it. She expects only money from her husband to install a TV screen on the fourth wall and finally plunge into an illusory world where neither husband nor children are needed.

Mildred constantly consumes sleeping pills. At the beginning of the novel, she takes a whole bottle of such pills, but she is saved. It turns out that the number of pill suicides in the city has increased dramatically in recent years. In the end, Mildred denounces her husband, who keeps the forbidden books taken from the fires in a cache and reads them in secret. The fire brigade arrives at her call to burn down Montag's house along with the books hidden in a cache.

Any dystopia has its dissidents. Bradbury also has them. This is Guy Montag. He professionally burns books. In the Russian translation, Guy is called "fireman", but he does not extinguish the fire, he kindles it. At first, he is confident that he is doing socially useful work. I am sure that he is the keeper of calm, destroying harmful books.

An important place in the novel is Clarissa McLellan - a 17-year-old girl who does not want to live according to antihuman laws. Guy Mongag accidentally meets her and is surprised to see that she is a person from a completely different world. Here is a snippet of their conversation: “Clarissa, why aren't you at school?” Guy asks. Clarissa replies, “I'm not interested there. My psychologist claims that I am uncommunicative, that I have a hard time getting along with people, but this is not so! I really love communication, only at school it is not. We watch educational films for hours, rewrite something in a history lesson, and redraw something in a drawing lesson. We don’t ask questions and at the end of the day we’re so tired that we only want one thing - either go to sleep or go to the amusement park and beat the windows in the glass-smashing room, shoot at the shooting range or drive cars. " She also adds: "People now have no time for each other."

Clarissa admits that she is afraid of her peers who kill each other (in a year six people were shot, ten died in car accidents). The girl says that classmates and those around her think she is crazy: “I rarely watch TV walls in living rooms, I hardly go to car races or to amusement parks. That's why I have time for all sorts of crazy thoughts. " Clarissa dies tragically, but in a short time of communication with Montag manages to sow in his soul the seeds of doubt about the correctness of what he is doing. One of the heroes of the novel speaks of the deceased girl as follows: “She was not interested in how something is done, but for what and why. And such curiosity is dangerous … For the poor thing it is better that she died."

Montag, under the influence of Clarissa, first thinks about what a book is: “I also thought about books. And for the first time I realized that there is a person behind each of them. Man thought, nurtured thoughts.Wasted a lot of time to write them down on paper. And it never crossed my mind before."

Another hero of the novel, Professor Faber, turns out to be a critic of the system. This old professor is Beatty's opposite. He is also smart, educated, wise. He tells Montag about history, civilization, books. Among the enormous variety of books, the professor puts above all the Eternal Book - the Bible. However, Faber is forced to adapt to a hostile environment, and only on his own does he feel like an old-fashioned university professor. Sometimes he feels helpless: “… with all my knowledge and skepticism, I never found the strength to enter into an argument with a symphony orchestra of one hundred instruments, which roared at me from the color and volumetric screen of our monstrous living rooms … It is doubtful that one deep old man and one disaffected fireman could change something now that things have gone so far …”Faber is pessimistic. Addressing Montag, the professor says: “Our civilization is heading for destruction. Step aside so you don't get hit by the wheel."

There are other rogue dissidents in the novel. The author calls them "people-books" or "living books". They live in a forest far from the city. The group described in the novel consists of five people - three university professors, a writer, and a priest. They are rebels. They try to resist the new order, accumulating the wisdom of the past and hoping to pass it on to future generations. Guy Montag joins this group.

Some admirers of Bradbury compare the novel "Fahrenheit 451" with the parable of the Phoenix bird, which was burnt at the stake, but each time it was reborn from the ashes. One member of a rebel dissident group, a writer named Granger, says: “Once upon a time, in ancient times, there was a stupid Phoenix bird. Every few hundred years she burned herself at the stake. She must have been close relatives to man. But, having burned out, she was reborn again from the ashes every time. We humans are like this bird. However, we have an advantage over her. We know what stupidity we have committed. We know all the nonsense we have done for a thousand years or more. And since we know this and all this is written down, and we can look back and see the path that we have passed, that is, the hope that someday we will stop building these stupid funeral pyres and throw ourselves into the fire. Each new generation leaves us people who remember the mistakes of mankind."

Although the legend of the Phoenix bird originates in the pagan world, in Christianity it has received a new interpretation, expressing the triumph of eternal life and resurrection; it is a symbol of Christ. Bradbury's novel tells how books were burned to destroy a person, to condemn him to fiery hell. The life of the protagonist Guy Montag is a way of overcoming one-dimensional thinking, a turn from internal degradation to the restoration of oneself as a person. In the novel, Montag's transformation seems to begin with an accident - a meeting with a strange girl Clarissa. Maybe for someone the same turn will happen after reading the novel "Fahrenheit 451".

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