Ray Bradbury was a prolific science fiction and fantasy writer. He is best known for his novel Fahrenheit 451, which imagines a dystopian world where firemen are sent out to burn books, and essentially, ideas. This censorship was a very real fear during the McCarthy era in which the novel was written, where persecution for dissenting opinions was a real threat.
Ray Bradbury was born in 1920 in Illinois. He was a prolific writer from a very young age, asserting that writing would be his career from as young as 11 years old. His first novel, The Martian Chronicles, imagines the colonization of Mars by humans fleeing from an earth devastated by atomic bombs. This was a common theme for many writers who were living during the Cold War, as they imagined utter devastation with nuclear weapons close at hand.
Bradbury’s second novel, Fahrenheit 451 reveals a dystopian society in which firemen are dispatched to residences to destroy books, and the residence, with fire. The government keeps the masses busy with mindless, quick entertainment, but books have real ideas and messages for people to avoid making the same mistakes of the past. Guy Montag, a fireman, becomes disillusioned with his job and his life after meeting Clarisse and seeing his wife’s worsening addiction to sleeping pills. He begins to hide books instead of burning them, and then he reaches out to a former English professor to help him understand them. After a particular display of anger at the situation, his wife and her friends turn him in and he has to burn his own house down. He flees the city and finds safety with a group of people who are awaiting their chance to take their world—and their books—back again. The dangers of thought control and mindless entertainment are at the center of Bradbury’s dystopian world, much like other writers of his time who were leaving World War II and entering the war between battling ideologies in the world’s two superpowers.
Bradbury’s visions of the future might seem tame by today’s standards, but for his time, he was reflecting both the optimism of scientific advancements and the fear of government control and the power of technology. Bradbury died in Los Angeles in 2012 after a lengthy illness, but luckily, he did not get to see any of his bleak visions of the future come true.
”The problem in our country isn’t with books being banned, but with people no longer reading… You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
“Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again. As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible.”
“That’s the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you.”