Thursday, 28 August 2014

Fahrenheit 451 (a non-technical post)

It's been a while since I updated this blog, so I'm going to cross-post a literary thought from a private Facebook discussion:

Fahrenheit 451 has strong anti-feminine sentiments; the main characters are men, the only thoughtful woman is a woman-in-the-freezer, women are always used as the examples of societal airheaded-naivete, but criticising this seems to play into the book's own narratives of censorship:
"Now let's take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don't step on the toes of the dog-lovers, the cat-lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic-books survive."

In the postscript to my edition, Bradbury explicitly addresses this complaint (among others) noting that "there's more than one way to burn a book". He further recounts that, ironically, many students in the US have been given editions which are partially censored (mostly swearwords like 'damn' and 'hell').

Here's an interesting idea: the book is improved because because it simultaneously cries-out for criticism of it's gender-stereotypes (or even a re-write) while explicitly warning against the dangers of special-interest censorship. A progressive reading this book in the 21st century needs to wage, in their own mind, the societal-censorship battle that Bradbury describes.

Note: It was written in the 50s, which is an explanation if not an excuse.
Note 2: Women aren't a minority, but they are an interest group in the same style as the others and Bradbury explicitly addresses 'feministas' as a minority in the postscript of my edition.

About Me

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
I'm hard at work on an MSc in Physics at the University of Melbourne, my research topic is 'building nano-scale neural networks'. In my (limited) spare time I tinker with 3D printing, electronics and programming.