It was a pleasure to burn. So begins, with this absolutely perfect opening line, Ray Bradbury's celebrated exposition of the dangers of censorship. Everybody knows that Fahrenheit 451 is a novel about book-burning, but this story goes much deeper than those not having read it may suspect. Its message truly does become even more germane and prophetic with every passing day. The skeleton of the plot is rather basic, really. Guy Montag is a fireman whose job it is to burn books and the houses in which these dangerous manifestations of inane scribbling reside - usually hidden. No one even remembers a time when firemen actually put out fires. We join Guy's life as he enters into a cusp of uncertainty. He has dared to pilfer a book here and there and stash them in his house, a most dangerous crime indeed. He soon meets a free-spirited teenager who breathes life into his state of uncertainty and opens his mind to brand new thoughts and possibilities. When she makes him admit that he is not happy, his life is changed forever. He can't take the lack of substance all around him, the wife who thinks of nothing but "the family" (a type of interactive programming that dominates the living room), the impending war which everyone essentially ignores. He knows there must be something else in life, and he comes to believe that the enlightenment he is after must surely be contained in books. Montag's conversations with his Fire Chief on this subject are quite astounding and revealing, and between this and Montag's friendship with an old former professor, we learn how Montag's world came to be this way.
The government did not simply ban books overnight. Censorship started slowly and at low levels. Some minority group complained about this - deleted; another group complained about that - gone; these fellows over here object to so-and-so - zip. So many little pieces of books were removed that, over time, the very essence of books was destroyed. While the government has now come to insist that reading books is a crime, the horrible truth of the matter is that the society itself, in its fractious ways, is the party responsible for this tragic state of affairs. Can there be a more timely topic for our own time? We continually see history books being rewritten, "objectionable" words, phrases, and (horror of horrors) ideas removed from novels and poems so that no one can possibly be offended by anything under the sun. Censorship is a cancer on society, and the world needs visionaries such as Ray Bradbury to forcefully draw attention to the cold hard facts that a majority of the population seems to ignore or fails to acknowledge. Once the true meaning has been chopped out of the books lining our shelves, it will be too late to reverse the momentum without the aid of some kind of miracle. Fahrenheit 451's message is one that all people should be exposed to, and this novel is such a quick (but powerful) read that everyone really should read it. As horrible as it is to envision, I fear that this type of censorship could indeed happen here.