Where to begin…Fahrenheit 451

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August 20, 2016 by bradcharlesbeals

fahrenheit 451.jpgA little bit of tension, and we’re hooked at page one.

From Fahrenheit 451  by Ray Bradbury:

It was a pleasure to burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

Montag grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame.

He knew that when he returned to the firehouse, he might wink at himself, a minstrel man, burnt-corked, in the mirror. Later, going to sleep, he would feel the fiery smile still gripped by his face muscles, in the dark. It never went away, that. smile, it never ever went away, as long as he remembered.

Obviously burning is not burning, and what Montag feels such pleasure in is not the vocation of book burner, but something else. It’s here in this opening, in the little hints at what the book burner, the idea destroyer, feels himself to be. It’s a plastered-on role, like the smile, the strong arm of the tyrant. He knows it himself. He’ll wink at his mirror image, his alter ego, and he’ll wear that fixed smile.

That’s what the passage is doing, but how does that help to draw us into the story?

I think it’s in our intimacy with him.

We’re there, in the fire suit and under the helmet with him, and we bristle at the idea of it. He must, at some point in this story, change, or we must be released from him.

Either way, we want to keep going with this Montag and see what happens.

For my own….

Is there tension built in? The reading eye won’t be pulled along unless there is. If the tension’s not there, the reading eye will wander and look for something else to attach itself to. If tension’s not there, it will betray you.

The tension here in 451 is simply the suggestion that Montag is faking it.

So it doesn’t take much. 

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