The dystopian novel genre has always held a special place in the hearts of those that love freedom. From Zamyatin’s nightmare of conformity in We to Orwell’s all-controlling state in 1984, these books not only provide entertainment, but they also force us to think about what we would do if faced with such conditions. But more and more, we are being pushed to ask ourselves another question: Are we living in the prelude to a dystopian vision? And, of course, what can we do to prevent its birth?
The past it being torn down around us. Historical revisionists seek to destroy the pillars of the Western world. It may appear that there is a hidden hand at play, and there’s certainly some evidence for that, but who is allowing it to happen? Is this the beginning of a Brave New World? Will The Handmaid’s Tale be told again? Or are we living in a very different book?
It seems that of the many literary paths we could have taken as a society, the one we have settled on is Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451.
For those of you not familiar with this book, it centers around a fireman by the name of Guy Montag. Not a fireman as we understand the role today, Montag’s job – and that of his co-workers – is to hunt out and burn books.
“It was a pleasure to burn,” reads the opening line, which sets the stage for our introduction to a world in which the masses are devoted to their televisions, safe and secure from the dangers of the written word. People are cozy in their complacency and all perfectly content in the knowledge that no one has ideas that are different from their own. As you can no doubt tell, Bradbury appears to be quite the Nostradamus.
Four Hundred- and fifty-one-degrees Fahrenheit is said to be the temperature at which books burn, although the author himself admits that he never verified this. Written during Senator Joseph McCarthy’s era, the novel certainly has overtones that make it a product of its time. But in 451, it is not directly the government who Bradbury blames; it is the public – and those who wish to be safe from controversial opinions and thought.
Fiction Becomes Reality?
This is what we see today. Formerly sane individuals are joining the mob to demand that statues are torn down and that books and even writers are canceled for their supposedly “heretical” views. It seems as though members of the public are determined firstly to censor themselves, and then to deny the rest of us the right to have and learn history. How long will it be before the books start burning in the name of the “public good”?
We think we live in a society that would never stoop to the Nazi tactics of burning precious words, but I fear we are about to be proven wrong. It’s not hard to find video footage of violent mobs burning flags; they do it because it represents the country they hate. Is it so far a step from burning the cloth representation of a nation to burning the written representation? How long before these ignorant masses start burning copies of the Constitution? And after that, who knows?
They think that books are unimportant and perpetuate the system they despise. In Fahrenheit 451, the main character, Guy Montag, undergoes a transformation. He is first at a loss, suffering the banality of a sterilized life, then he becomes curious, then he begins to learn. And how does he learn? Through books.
There’s a wonderful passage that explains the value of the written word and how it relates to our experience of the world:
“The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are. They’re Caeser’s praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, “Remember, Caeser, thou art mortal.” Most of us can’t rush around, talking to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends. The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. Don’t ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.”
The Forbidden Fruit of Diverse Ideas
Montag must extricate himself from the role of a firefighter. In doing so, he becomes, ultimately, more human. He experiences worlds beyond his narrow vision through the pages of books that have escaped the purge. He is challenged by new ideas that help him grow – in direct contrast to the other people in the novel who are shrinking. They shrink, they become less, they become more malleable and manipulated because their entertainment is their life – and what poor entertainment it is. TV screens with saccharine content that never offends, that never upsets your prejudice and never dares to allow a new idea to trouble your safe space.
The book-burners-in-waiting are more than just censorial; they wish to erase the past, sweep away the world that has made them unsatisfied, and rebuild a kindergarten that will never again make them afraid. Where the soft touch of the government nanny will wipe away their tears and provide them with canned comfort; this is not a life worth living.
Without challenge, where would our species be? Where would any species be? These emotionally-stunted protesters believe that those who are not with them cannot feel, cannot think, and cannot accept their burgeoning new Utopia. But they are wrong for so many reasons.
Those of us who love books are moved to tears by a word or concept. We change our whole lives based on the reading of a piece of history, or an ideal presented. Books are the shoulders of giants upon which we can stand to reach new heights in learning, compassion, and experience. And finally, we know well enough what their supposed Utopia will bring because we have seen it before. In fact, we have read about it before.
Their new Graden of Eden will be a paradise of woke culture – until they start to dig the mass graves.
Read more from Mark Angelides.