Comprehensive coverage

burned on you

Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury. Translated from English: Naa Manheim. Odyssey publishing house, 204 pages, NIS 72

Judith Baumel

Pictured: Ray Bradbury, 2000

Every child has fantasies. Some dream of running around in a toy store while filling a cart with everything they want. Others fantasize about suddenly closing school in the middle of winter and going on an unplanned vacation. Some claim that Motaka Meir fulfilled the fantasy of hundreds of Herzliya High School graduates when he and his friends built Migdal Shalom on the ruins of the institution where they studied. I had a fantasy typical of nerds: to lock myself in the public library for an entire night to read to my pleasure without interruption.

I remembered this when I took the book "Fahrenheit 451," an unforgettable work for anyone who read it in the English original, as I did in my youth. The title of the book indicates the temperature at which pages of paper spontaneously catch fire, and the book itself describes a society where people are forbidden to read, where there are no balconies at the entrances of houses and almost no public gardens, so that they cannot "just" sit and talk, and where the firefighters are in charge of starting fires - they start Books were burned inside the houses where they were hidden, sometimes on their occupants, who resisted the evacuation.

Although the book was published already in 1953, for almost a year it was known in Israel only to a handful of madmen, science fiction readers in the original language, or to those who saw Francois Truffaut's film based on the book. Chesed published Odyssey with the readers in Hebrew for translating it, and even added an afterword and an appendix by the author, written in the late seventies and early eighties.

The plot takes place in the USA, somewhere in the future, in a society that developed after two nuclear wars. Guy Montag, a firefighter in his early thirties, is the scion of a family of firefighters whose job it is to maintain public order by burning books, which are considered a subversive factor that can bring people to a new way of thinking, to reflect on the essence of their lives, and finally to challenge the general happiness. His wife Mildred spends most of her hours watching the television walls installed in their home, participating in interactive soap opera-style television programs and listening to non-stop text programs through shells that she inserts deep into her ears.

While Mildred and her friends, who occasionally visit her to watch the non-stop shows together, sink deeper into a coma, Guy's world is shaken after he meets a young neighbor named Clarisse, a strange bird who provokes him to think, talk and reflect on his actions. Clarisse does disappear - run over or murdered, a common occurrence in that violent society where human life has no value - but her words leave a mark on the fireman's soul.

In one of the following "extinguishing" operations in which he participates, he steals a book, peeks and is injured, and thus begins a sequence of events that ends with him fleeing the city in a police chase and joining a group of nomadic intellectuals in the forest, each of whom is a walking book. In a society that forbids the reading of books, what was for thousands of years a "written Torah" becomes an "oral Torah" in order to preserve it until a society is established that will turn the wheel back and allow people to put things in writing again. An upside-down world where the pre-modern and the post-modern merge.

This is the gist of the plot of "Fahrenheit 451," which stars fascinating supporting characters such as Beatty, the fire station chief, an increasing source of knowledge about the history of firefighting, who scatters quotes that betray his knowledge in both classic and modern works. Beatty's mirror figure, who peeked but not only was not harmed, but became a fanatic to the core, is Faber, an old intellectual who directs Montag to develop an escape from a cruel world that has turned words into enemies and books into tools - Trojan horses inserted into the human soul. Let's not forget, of course, Mildred's friends, who hate children, love the incessant chatter that surrounds their empty world and whose husband has just been drafted into a blitzkrieg of only a few hours; And last but not least, the firemen's mechanical dog, a terrifying and dangerous creature programmed against enemies and suddenly turned against Montag as a sort of Cerberus rising from his slumber and sinking his teeth into the victims' legs to drag them into the underworld.

However, "Fahrenheit" 451 is not a book about forbidden books nor about firefighters coming to burn them, nor is it a book about the quest for freedom of thought in a totalitarian society. This is a book about war and oblivion with strong gender elements that teach us a lot about the author's world.

First, regarding the war. Bradbury's book was written in the years after World War II, in the midst of the Cold War, like George Orwell's work. "1948 Apart from the motif of burning the books, taken directly from the world of the Third Reich, readers will surely notice the not-so-quiet background melody of the plot - the thunder of the jet planes passing frequently in the sky on their way to bomb the target country - and the image that emerges from a significant part of the discussions in it: the mushroom that sows around it destruction.

This is a book that tells how the captains of a country anesthetize its citizens so that they will not express an opinion about blitzkriegs that cause hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties in a matter of seconds, who will not react when the owners are taken to fly jet planes and drop bombs that will turn cities into ruins, and ends with Montag's former city receiving similar "treatment" from the enemy planes and goes up in flames just as the contents of his house turned to ashes a short time before during contact with the flamethrower.

This is a book about forgetfulness, which is achieved through constant stimulation of the sense of sight and hearing. This forgetting works at the same time on the level of the individual - for example Montag's wife who cannot remember when she first met him - and on the level of the whole: an entire society that does not remember how firefighters turned from putting out fires into starting them. Encouraging forgetfulness has one purpose: to bring the person to live only in the present, which consists of working and then sitting in front of four walls of the interactive television in his home while he watches cryptic programs of talking heads that actually say nothing. In the world of oblivion there are no lessons, no religions built on the dictates of the past, no value decisions based on the analysis of future options, and most importantly, no pangs of conscience. And from here we can return to the motif of war, where pilots can be launched to grow mushrooms around the world while the peaceful citizens sink into a half-sleep, their shells in their ears and their eyes staring at the ceiling of the dark bedrooms as the continuous murmur envelops them like a cloud.

And now for gender. The Italian historian Benedetto Croce wrote that "every historian is a contemporary", which is also true in relation to writers. The division of roles according to Bradbury - which he refers to in the epilogue written more than half a year after the publication of his book - illustrates well his unequivocal and stereotypical gender world.
The men in the book - Montag the fireman who turns into a walking copy of the book of Ecclesiastes, the intellectuals who help him on his revolutionary path, and even the station commander who is portrayed as a blooming treasure of knowledge - are men, while the women embedded in the plot are shallow, vengeful, and turn their backs on any kind of knowledge and action. They hate the idea of ​​bringing offspring into the world and prefer the barren world where the only "family" is a TV show with that name.

An exception in this dichotomous division is Clarisse, a girl who plays the role of Eve who seduces Montag, the one who just a moment ago discovered the truth and is now warming his palms in front of the fire just as the first Adam did, according to the Midrash, when he left the Garden of Eden. Montag's world - and Bradbury's - is the world of men. They are the only ones who think, who decide and who do. In the epilogue, the author claims that when they were thinking of putting the story on stage, he was asked to add some female characters to the plot to balance the picture, and refused. and better this way. It is important to leave the plot as it was in order to get a gender perspective of the world from fifty years ago, and to recognize the social and cultural changes we have undergone in matters of gender since then.

Many of the past and present critics of "Fahrenheit 451" have dealt with the question of the centrality of the book in trying to change the face of society and have commented that a significant proportion of the people living in the world get along well and even participate in revolutions without even knowing how to read.
But this issue - which apparently serves as a foundation for the plot - is not the main point. The book is merely a tool for conveying ideas, which in the technological age can be replaced by other means. Instead, one must ask to what extent building a world without lessons and designing a society that lives in a constant coma - directed from above or created from within - help the captains of the states to fulfill their megalomaniacal wishes, a problem that is as relevant today as it was before Jubilee.

Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451

The book: Experience Re-placing Ourselves: Gender, Place, and Memory in the Modern Jewish edited by Judith Baumel and Tova Cohen will be published by Frank Cass

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