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Fahrenheit 451 - the temperature at which books burn - MessAge Media: Other Opinions

Fahrenheit 451 - the temperature at which books burn

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Posted: Friday, June 7, 2019 2:45 am

The title page reads: Fahrenheit 451 - the temperature at which book paper catches on fire, and burns. From the beginning, Ray Bradbury’s 1953 science fiction novel elicits an ominous premonition that the world inside its pages is dangerously off-kilter.

The protagonist, Guy Montag, lives a futuristic life as a firefighter whose organization starts fires instead of extinguishing them. As agents of government censorship, their mission is to obliterate books by burning the houses of people who are suspected of keeping them.

Since 1791, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has provided every citizen the right to Free Speech. It states: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” When book censorship occurs in this country, the process is commonly at the local level and specific to one particular book, author or idea. In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled: “Local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.” According to the American Library Association, Fahrenheit 451 has itself been censored. Official complaints claimed that Fahrenheit promoted “anti-Christian behaviors” and contained “a lot of vulgarity,” citing the use of “damn,” “abortion” and “hell.” Readers can’t help but wonder if it’s possible for a literate, educated society such as ours – one which encourages free thinking and expression – to become so dysfunctional as to allow government censorship and mass destruction of its books. “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture,” Ray Bradbury warned. “Just get people to stop reading them.” 

The author’s 1953 science fiction novel bears some disturbing similarities to the present: Citizens in Montag’s world have become apathetic, narcissistic and addicted to government-produced mass media; dissension is discouraged. People have begun to avoid books because of their unsettling content, conflicting opinions and contradictory facts. Montag’s wife, Mildred, lives in her “parlor,” where soap operas and reality intermingle on wall-sized TVs. Her “family” consists of screen people whom she refers to as “aunts and uncles.” At night Mildred listens to radio through “Seashell” earplugs.

Violent deaths of children are at an all-time high. “My uncle says his grandfather remembered when children didn’t kill each other,” Mildred reflects. “But that was a long time ago when they had things different. They believed in responsibility, my uncle says.”

Spoiler alert: One night, after Mildred discovers her own husband has been hiding books, Montag has the horrific realization that the firetruck has arrived to burn his own house. On the run, he joins a cluster of literary drifters whose mission is to memorize entire books in order to preserve literature for a new, future society. After bombers destroy most of their world, the group leaves, following the path of abandoned, rusty railroad tracks.

Fahrenheit 451 is a short, easy read which leaves many thought-provoking questions. What is fact and what is fiction? Why do we need books? Which book would you memorize?

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What’s Happening at the Depot Library:

Onamia Days Book & Bake Sale: Saturday, June 15, 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. Donations are welcome.

Free Storytime For All Ages: 10 - 11:30 a.m. on Mondays: June 17, 24; July 8, 15, 22, 29. Sponsored by Early Childhood Family Education. No pre-registration required.

Depot Library Hours: Tuesday, 12 - 4 p.m.; Wednesday and Saturday, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. (320) 532-5210. 

Guest columnist Mary Jackson is the librarian at the Onamia Depot Library.

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