You’ve probably wondered it in the middle of a history test or on the first day of a new social studies class, or maybe your teachers have even asked you themselves—why does anything from the past decade, century or even millennium matter? Shouldn’t we be looking at the future, and not the past?
However, looking at the past is essential. Any educated person should know that the past is what moves us forward. It helps us grow and think. We either learn from the past or we ignore it—and either way, there are consequences.
In 1953, Ray Bradbury published his most iconic work, “Fahrenheit 451.” The dystopian noveltakes a look at a future society in which books are outlawed and destroyed by “firefighters.” The community is lazy and careless, absorbed in television and disinterested in the outside world. Suicide and empty-mindedness plague everyone, including firefighter Guy Montag, until one day he meets his strange neighbor, who causes him to have a revelation about the empty life that he and everyone around him has been living.
The winner of numerous prestigious awards, Bradbury’s book was terrifyingly ahead of its time and is intensely thought-provoking. The novel takes a trip to a reality of repressed and censored individual minds, influenced by a ban on intelligence and technology smothering free will. With an HBO adaptation coming later this year, the book and our modern lives are eerily similar.
The common expression “ignorance is bliss” is discussed heavily throughout the book, and is proven to be far from what we need to live by—the actions taken by Montag (stealing books to read himself, running away from the authorities) show that we as people have a thirst for knowledge. Additionally, it shows that if we are blind to truth and intelligence, we lose power over our own lives—no more control, and an intense lack of individuality and life.
Other issues the book deals with are censorship and freedom of speech. These are widely disputed topics, especially with the intense spike of television and the Internet. In our modern lives, opinions are everywhere. According to statista.com, 81 percent of Americans and 2.46 billion users worldwide use social media. Anyone has the ability to put out whatever they want into the world, and that scares many people.
But copious studies on technology and its effects on humans, as well as Bradbury himself, have expressed concern about if this surplus of information is good. While books haven’t been forgotten or neglected, “Fahrenheit 451” brings up the idea that we may eventually reach the point where nobody bothers with them anymore—that the ban on books will be something we inflicted upon ourselves.
The past matters. One lesson we can take from “Fahrenheit 451” is that we need to read, to learn. Not just to to help ourselves, but to help the world around us. We need to read because without reading, how will we grow? And though Bradbury’s narrative includes the fear that television and radio are what will destroy our minds, as long as we know that ignorance is not bliss, we can truly prevent the future he terrifyingly portrays.