I started a reread of Fahrenheit 451. I haven’t read the book since high school and remembered enjoying it so I picked up a copy at the book store. It turned out to be a 60th anniversary edition. I started reading and it’s a quick read but, as with many successful dystopian novels, there are eerie similarities to modern times. If you haven’t read this book, I recommend it. It’s only 158 pages and is a great read.
With the threat of nuclear war currently on the horizon, and the current political climate here in America, it’s not surprising that 1984 by George Orwell has made it onto today’s bestseller list. In 1984, there is the continuous war. In Fahrenheit 451 there is also a war going on though the only hint of it is the consistent flyover of bomber planes. But war doesn’t necessarily make a story dystopian, obviously, but it’s ironic that many dystopian novels have war as an underlying element. Humanity has consistently been at war with itself throughout history. 1984 has a continual war as a means to maintain control. Fahrenheit 451 has a war that gives hope for change from the current social infrastructure.
That social infrastructure is frighteningly too familiar in the way it mirrors society today with the internet and everyone’s faces glued to a screen with the most common being a cell phone. These books, written between 60 and 70 years ago (next year will be 1984‘s 70th anniversary), were meant to be cautionary tales about what the future could become. There were reasons 1984 was banned from many countries (not all of them communist countries) shortly after its release.
Fahrenheit 451, thought dated in some ways, stands up to time because is connects on a fundamentally human level and accurately predicted (closely enough) the direction society was heading. Empathy is becoming less common. The anonymity of internet users allows them to openly show how terrible of a person they are without consequence or association with their real identities, leaving them to berate a stranger and turn to their families and keep a facade of perfect parent or “normal” teenager.
These books are important. Not because they are warnings of a dangerous road, but because they are reminders that even in evil times there is still good. That even though things look bad, there is still a chance to turn it around. That good people exist and all we need is for them to act on what they know to be right instead of remain bystanders to the those acting selfishly and with no regard to fellow human beings. I’m curious how a dystopian novel written today would read. I think it’s easy to assume that it would become a post-apocalyptic novel vs. actual dystopian. I’m currently turning gears about how the world might look in fifty or one hundred years. Will it be scary or beautiful? Or will it be a little of both and not seem much different from right now? Who knows, but time will tell if we make it that far. Here’s to hoping we make some good decisions as a species.