#13: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 speaks of a world where intellectualism is dead – the average man or woman no longer cares to think, to rationalize, or to philosophize; instead, they are content to chase the most immediate reward, to seek the closest and quickest thrill or joy. This may be in the form of huge television screens spanning entire walls, or speeding across highways at 200 miles per hour. Does such a society sound familiar? Some may argue that today’s materialistic, short-attention-span generation are well on their way to that eventuality.
I disagree with such a pessimistic notion, but that’s a debate for another day.
The central group in this society are the firemen; instead of fighting fires, they are responsible for setting fires, based upon reports of families or households keeping secret stashes of forbidden knowledge, the most illegal of goods, the gateway to thought and despair…
The story follows one such fireman, Guy Montag, who begins questioning his role in society and whether books really are as evil as he’s told. It is a bleak world with a bleak ending, but it serves to raise points as important today as in 1953: Should the easy path take precedence over the right path? Should you ignore the world if it is painful to look at? Should you stop asking the difficult questions because they are emotionally difficult? Should knowledge that you disagree with be censored?
If, like me, you’ve ever been offended by the concept of the authorities in Malaysia deciding what content the rest of us should consume, then this is the story for you. However, note this: This book is different from other dystopian novels (such as 1984) in that censorship was brought about by the demands of society, not imposed on it by force.
#14: 1984 by George Orwell
It’s been several days since I finished this one, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it and wholeheartedly recommend it, but there’s a lot to chew on.
Knowingly or not, you’ve likely been touched by the influence of this book. “Orwellian” and “Big Brother” are terms that have entered the mainstream glossary, and they originate here. In any discussion of the dangers of surrendering liberty for security and of the surveillance state, a mention of 1984 – or its concepts – is unavoidable.
At times (or really, for the most part), the book reads more like an essay or manifesto than a story. I’m not complaining, because Orwell writes at length about the ultimate authoritarian state: Observing and listening to your every move, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, through cameras, spies, and deeply indoctrinated citizens (even your children). The main antagonist of the book is the intangible ruling Party and the leader of the state, Big Brother – omnipresent and omniscient. The repercussions of complete, unbridled control of knowledge and information by the state is discussed – if all records of an event can be altered, if an apple dropped but all the photographs and news reports and witnesses claim that it did not; then did it really drop? If I walk into a wall, but claim that it didn’t happen, and you also make the mental gymnastics to say I did not, then did I walk into a wall at all (Read: Solipsism)? If the language we speak does not have words for freedom and its synonyms, how do we conceptualize it?
Yeah… And I’ve only scratched the surface in describing the Thought Police, thoughtcrime, doublethink, or newspeak. If nothing else, (and whether Orwell intended it as so or not) the book serves as a warning. I certainly value freedom of speech a little higher now.
The reading of this book was made doubly interesting by the notations left behind by its previous owner. It really got me thinking: You can derive a lot about an individual’s personality from the words they leave behind (am I doing the same here?). The picture I painted of this girl (based on the limited evidence, my mind chooses to imagine her as a girl) is one that is:
- Eclectic and well-read (she makes it clear that she’s read a lot of different material)
- Naive and of late high school or early college age (when she read this book) (by the fact that she can’t seem to wrap her head around why some things happen as they do or why some people do what they do)
- Exposed to one too many English literature classes (judging by that trademark desire to read symbolism into something that was really not meant to be a metaphor – or quoting other sources or authors that couldn’t possibly have influenced this book because they were released long after)
- Raised in a conservative family (invoking faith and God here and there; but this was a really cheap guess considering the region I live in)
Understanding her viewpoints and forming an opinion of her became a game in and of itself. Though some of your comments rather annoyed me, I do thank you, fellow reader, for the entertainment.