The Best of the Big Three: Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451

It’s official. I have finally read all of the “Big Three” in dystopian literature! The big three being Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World [read August 2006], George Orwell’s 1984 [read April 2012], and, of course, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which I just finished reading this month. Fahrenheit 451 happens to be my favorite of the three, and not just because it’s the most recently read of the bunch. The subject matter, books and their destruction, loomed heavy on my heart. Bradbury uses the most beautiful language; some passages left me breathless. Here are the quotes I wrote down that hit me the hardest—those that I think capture the essence of the tone Bradbury set in what is arguably his masterpiece.

Click the link to read on.

He saw himself in her eyes, suspended in two shining drops of bright water, himself dark and tiny, in fine detail, the lines about his mouth, everything there, as if her eyes were two miraculous bits of violet amber that might capture and hold him intact. Her face, turned to him now, was fragile milk crystal with a soft and constant light in it. It was not the hysterical light of electricity but—what? But the strangely comfortable and rare and gently flattering light of a candle (5).

She had a very thin face like the dial of a small clock seen faintly in a dark room in the middle of a night when you waken to see the time and see the clock telling you the hour and the minute and the second, with a white silence and a glowing, all certainty and knowing what it has to tell or the night passing swiftly on toward further darknesses, but moving also toward a new sun (8).

There are too many of us, he thought. There are billions of us and that’s too many. Nobody knows anyone. Strangers come and violate you. Strangers come and cut your heart out. Strangers come and take your blood (14).

“I don’t talk things, sir,” said Faber. “I talk the meaning of things. I sit here and know I’m alive” (71).

“Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are” (79).

“Don’t ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore” (82).

“But remember that the Captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy to truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority. Oh, God, the terrible tyranny of the majority. We all have our harps to play. And it’s up to you now to know with which ear you’ll listen” (104).

“Everyone  must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said, A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made.  Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away” (149).

“Stuff your eyes with wonder,” he said, “live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that,” he said, “Shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass” (150).

So, which do you think is the greatest of the Big Three? Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s 1984, or Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451?

See my favorite quotes from Orwell's 1984 here.

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