Is India Heading Towards The Authoritarian World Described By The Classic ‘Fahrenheit 451’?

Posted by Jessica Goel in Books, Society
September 25, 2017

Fahrenheit 451: The Temperature At Which Book Paper Catches Fire And Burns

In case you’re wondering if this is about global warming, it’s not. It’s only about something that could be as worse. I could be asking greater questions like ‘What has our world turned into?’, ‘Why are their wars everywhere?’ ‘When will we eradicate poverty and hunger?’ ‘Is education really the answer to the problems?’

It was only a while ago when I read “Fahrenheit 451”, did it dawn on me that we’re slowly metamorphosising into a fictional piece that one hoped would never come true.

Reading the book was similar to holding a mirror to society. While it is a dystopian novel, the striking similarities with our reality left me shaking. It made me see what we may look like if a drone-shot view of our society was taken.

Written by Ray Bradbury in the 1950s, it serves more as a warning than a lesson. In fact, Ray Bradbury once even said, “People ask me to predict the future when all I want to do is prevent it.”

Fahrenheit 451” is the story of an authoritarian society in which books are banned and ‘firemen’ are appointed for setting books on fire. Only in a parallel universe, would you envision firemen igniting instead of extinguishing a fire. It’d only be ridiculous if the book turned into yet another Simpsons-turned-reality episode, for it will only show the discrepancies in humanity. However, history is replete with the quintessential human tendency to dig a hole for itself.

Ray Bradbury wrote the novel during an onset of the television age, after the world war, as he feared that literature will be devoured by the new invention. In this digital era, one can replace televisions for the internet. Literature survived the claws of TV but we can hardly say the same for social media. “Fahrenheit 451” emphasises on the dulling senses of people and enveloping them in a trance through the electronic medium on all their four walls, which now is being done by the smaller screens in our pockets.

The novel sheds light on the disconnect, lack of empathy and human emotions in people as everyone adopts an individualistic approach to life. People call television sets ‘family’, but on being asked about their husbands at war, they evade the conversation. The nonchalance about wars and people dying or children starving is similar to today’s lifestyle, wherein it’s considered futile to bother about daunting issues as it’s supposed to be the headache of a higher authority.

We sit on our comfortable sofas, pressing buttons and flicking channels, expressing grief to our neighbour the next morning and forgetting about it as we board a bus to work. The inability to empathise depicts the downward march of humanity.

In the book, the dystopian government gives immense power to those in the position of power to the extent of banning books. Alluring the masses into thinking that books are a source of sadness rather than knowledge, they were successful in gathering the human vote. Being exposed to the harsh reality of the world or increasing their emotional spectrum is considered extraneous. And, the only thing keeping the people happy is the pseudo-knowledge passed on by the government to its people through the ‘family’.

It results in people simply taking in what they are given, for the churning of mind has been put to rest. The government has indeed been successful in manufacturing robots that don’t question ‘why’ but simply believe it.

Drawing parallels to the North Korean regime, the government has been triumphant in not only running the state according to their whims and fancies but also inhibiting freedom, curbing the citizens to indulge in global affairs and feeding them fallacies.

As a parched throat is foraging for water, is the mind looking to nibble knowledge to satiate its hunger. Thus, the protagonist, despite being a ‘fireman’ goes through books which finally put his uneasy soul to rest. However, the protagonist isn’t able to grasp it and refers to it as sand slipping through a sieve. This inability is due to the inefficiency of the mind which has been rusting for the past years. The author compares the human race to the phoenix that builds its own funeral pyre and rises from the ashes.

It showcases the story of a world we shouldn’t retire to and although our world isn’t completely the same, it has similarities. From government control to oblivious human nature, it depicts the same world as us. I strongly believe that we should recuperate before our temperature reaches Fahrenheit 451. Everyone must leave something behind when they die. Let’s not leave a world like this.

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