To Flames: Part One

With recent events where books and other intellectual properties have been destroyed, I am reminded of a film and a book which I saw and read when I was a teenager.  It was a scene from the movie—FAHRENHEIT 451 where a fire was raging as books were tossed on the inferno by the firemen.

In the 24th century firemen, as they are called by Ray Bradbury, burned books and houses.  In this utopian society books were illegal.  They were a danger to maintaining a society of equality and tranquility. Wide-screen televisions (precursors of our current LCD and plasma wall sets), sea-shell radios and sleeping drugs were the means to happiness in this alternate reality.

When Bradbury wrote his story after World War II, he definitely had in mind what happened under Hitler—the mass book burnings that lit the night skies for miles.  In addition, he was alarmed by the rising McCarthyism in the USA where books, textbooks and films were being examined for the slightest inference to Communism as were individuals who dared to espouse an open view of the world. 

McCarthyism was not an invention of written fiction.  It was a harsh reality that society allowed to gain momentum resulting in fanatical over-reach into personal belief and lifestyle. Accusations against individuals and groups were made without any basis in fact.  Factual information was twisted to suit the accusation.

In FAHRENHEIT 451 the main character is Guy Montag, a fireman.

 Montag becomes disillusioned with his occupation after he goes to the house of an old woman to burn her house and books. She sets herself on fire and dies before his eyes.

To add to his growing discontent with his life are the conversations that he has with his teenage neighbor, Clarisse, who is a free thinker and dares to ask too many questions.  After Clarisse is killed, Montag begins to read some of the books that he had saved from the fires.  He finds the BIBLE to be different from what is being presented on the television and radio.

In the end Montag has to burn his own house because of his seditious tendencies of harboring the forbidden books.  His wife abandons him.  He is alone as he escapes from the society that he has grown to hate. Like Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s LES MISERABLES, he is now Montag, the fugitive, the hunted, the ex-protector of society.

It is only after he has removed his fireman clothes and replaced them with old rags that he finally finds freedom.  As he swims down river, the water carries him to a new life when he joins a group of outcasts—the educators and clergymen who are bound together by a greater truth than their differences.

Montag – “We burn them to ashes and then burn the ashes.  That’s our official motto.”

To burn books and other intellectual properties in order to destroy their ideas is a fallacy.  While the physical items represent ideas and ideologies, the latter cannot be destroyed by fire.  Ideas can only be destroyed by neglect. 

Ideas and ideologies are all around us.  If we choose to acknowledge them or ignore them, it is our right.  No one should force their views on another human being. Free expression is an inalienable right of every human being-man, woman and child. Rejection of another person or group’s views is an inalienable right as well.

How is it with you today on this planet traversing the cosmos? Where do you stand on the free expression of ideas and ideologies which are different than yours? Are you tolerant or do you believe the people around you should subscribe to your beliefs?

To be continued…

G. D. Williams       © 2011 

FAHRENHEIT 451 Film Preview