January 17, 2013

Fahrenheit 451


by Ray Bradbury

Autoignition temperature. According to Wikipedia, the autoignition temperature or the kindling point of a substance is "the lowest temperature at which it will spontaneously ignite in a normal atmosphere without an external source of ignition, such as a flame or spark." This is the "temperature required to supply the activation energy needed for combustion." In the case of paper, its autoignition temperature in Celsius is 450° or 218-246°, and in Fahrenheit, 842° or 424-475°.

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Fahrenheit 451 is a book about burning - torching - books. It is about firemen who, instead of putting out fires, start them. Evidently, its title is lifted from the autoignition temperature of paper in Fahrenheit, i.e., the middle point between 424° and 475° which is 451°.

But if autoignition temperature strictly speaks of spontaneous combustion - see above the phrase "spontaneously ignite" and the proviso, "without an external source of ignition" - then why the firemen, their kerosene and their fire-creating apparatus? They are a mere surplusage, right? Well, strictly and technically speaking.

If I am taking the premise too far or treating it in a far too technical manner, forgive me. My profession isn't based on science.

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Back in January 2012, our book club discussed George Orwell's dystopian classic, 1984. During the offline discussion, several members adverted to this particular work by Bradbury, relating similarities in plot and detail. Now that I've finally finished reading this, I can now appreciate the comparison between it and 1984.

Unlike 1984, however, which I found highly engrossing, Fahrenheit 451 didn't quite deliver.




The plot and setting are interesting enough: a city where books are banned and where households that carry them are razed to the ground, with firemen such as our protagonist, Montag, given the honors of doing so. This is in furtherance of the authorities' attempt to curb free thinking and contemplation, to create a society where everything is accomplished through shortcuts and where the members are reduced into non-thinking, mechanical individuals.

Compelling enough, true. But as the story progressed, I realized how thin it was. Figuratively.

Not that it lacked substance or depth. Not that it lacked in character development. The book definitely had those. Mainly, my problem with it was that it failed to grip me in a way that I expected it would. Sure, there's the thrill element from the Mechanical Hound, the futuristic community presented by the dystopian setting, the change of heart. But despite all those, I found that the book's appeal was fleeting, hinged solely on the idea that oh no, they're burning books! but when it comes down to it, the story failed to follow through.

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And then I come to the end of the book and stumble upon this line:

"And on either side of the river was there a tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."

I will confess: I Googled it. It sounded like a Bible passage, and since the Bible and the Book of Ecclesiastes were mentioned several times in the novel, I decided to search where the passage was taken. The line would turn out to be a Biblical allusion lifted not from the Book of Ecclesiastes, but from the last book in the Bible, Revelations:

Revelations 22: "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations."



It was the appropriate ending to signify a new beginning.

Recommended by: TFG's F2F Book for January 2013
Book Details: My own, bought from the Fully Booked booth at the MIBF 2012, TPB
Rating: ★★★

2 comments:

angus25 said...

In fairness, Bradbury can be quite stylistic. The book has a great theme, but it's poorly executed. :/

Monique said...

BUDDY: There you go. My notes synthesized in your two sentences. :)