“Michelle, come on. Hopeful dystopian fiction? I mean, dystopian means bad…very bad.” I know, but give me a minute here. Things can be bad and there can still be a bright future glimmering inside, maybe not for the characters but for their children or children’s children.
Possible SPOILER ALERT, my dears!
So, I’m reading Fahrenheit 451 and I start thinking maybe I remembered less of this book than I thought. I remember Montag meeting the girl and the hound is chasing him. I vaguely remember him getting away, but I don’t how and I’m only halfway through the book. Maybe I didn’t finish reading it last time?
And then the story is over. What?
It turns out that the 60th Anniversary Edition has bonus material. Sweet! The last 100 pages are “History, Context, and Criticism.” They include critical reviews and a few letters from Ray Bradbury. Those were my favorite! Every word I read from him, the more I love him.
His novels and short stories are not complex but hold so much power.
There was one little thing that stuck out to me on this time around, the “seashells.” He’s describing earbuds that people listen to constantly in Fahrenheit 451. Strange because right before I started reading the book, I had commented to a friend at lunch that everywhere I looked people were wearing those damn wireless earbuds. They look like remote control people.
I’ve never been able to listen to anything on those things. I feel vulnerable when they are in my ears, cut off from the sounds of the rest of the world, all hails and warnings too. I can’t focus on what I’m listening to. When people walk by with them on, it’s clear they want no contact from me. It’s creepy. Like we’re all alone…together.
In 1953, he wrote an article for “The Nation,” called “The Day After Tomorrow: Why Science Fiction?”
“So much depends, of course, on what the individual hears when he gives himself over to the electronic tides breaking on the shore of his Seashell. The voice of conscience and reason? An echo of morality? A new thought? A fresh idea? A morsel of philosophy? Or bias, hatred, fear, prejudice, nightmare, lies, half-truths, and suspicions?”
I don’t use earbuds, but I do listen to podcasts while I drive, as you probably have read in one of my Podcast Roundups. There are so many choices out there and I could fill my time in a million different ways, but I choose book discussions, philosophy, something that will help my reasoning, give me a new thought or a fresh idea, not add to my confirmation bias or stir up angry feelings of injustice.
And what about our smart phones with social media feeds? He couldn’t have seen that from way back there, but I think his feelings about in-ear radios match up quite nicely. Who or what you “follow” makes all the difference in the world.
One more little thing and then I’ll let you go.
“Is there…a delicate interplay where the society does not crush the individual but where the individual realizes that without his cooperation society would fly to pieces through the centrifugal force of anarchy?”
That’s something to think about, isn’t it? Personally, I’m a fan of classic anarchy (meaning “an absence of any form of political authority”) and prefer it to what we are currently running headlong into, but I get what he’s saying. Living in a community is a give and take dance. The bigger the community, the more complicated it becomes. You can’t run onto the dance floor and start a mosh pit while the ballroom dancers are gliding across the floor without inflicting injuries. And, ethically, we can’t force everyone to dance the same dance at the same time, so what do we do? Make space I suppose, take turns, create contracts, set up personal boundaries.
Reading Fahrenheit 451 after George Orwell’s 1984 was soothing. Sure, it’s dystopian, a cautionary tale about where we may be headed, but with a hopeful ending. I closed the book thinking, “See? Even if we screw things up royally, we’ll come back again.” Humanity has been much worse off in the past. I mean, the Dark Ages?!
If you keep your eye on the bigger picture, the one that includes each and every one of us as a thread in larger tapestry, things aren’t so overwhelming. Each of our lives adds a bit of color or texture to the design. Our little piece of string doesn’t seem like much but without us, the whole thing starts to unravel.
Instead of worrying so much about where I fit or what others are doing, I’ve decided to focus on my own life and connect with the people around me. Like the outliers in Fahrenheit 451, I do my best to memorize what I can and pass it forward to the next person.
If you’d like to read more of my posts about this book, pop back over to “Fahrenheit 451: New Read.”