Books. What Are They Good For? Absolutely Nothing.

I first read Fahrenheit 451 in my freshman year of high school. In my English class we were given the option to either read the physical copy of the book, or purchase it on our electronic devices and read it off the screen. Most of the kids looked up free versions of the text, in order to avoid the hassle of having to carry around the physical copy. I couldn’t help wondering, since when did books become burdens? When did it become normal to have your face in a screen almost 24/7? Were the days of physical books coming to an end?

The novel Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury explores the value of knowledge and the importance of having access to it. The novel was published in 1953, but was set in the future, a future in which the government controlled the people through propaganda and fear, and books are outlawed and burned. The protagonist of the novel is a fireman named Guy Montag, who enjoys his job very much. We know firemen to be people whose jobs comprises of putting down fires. Yet in this dystopian world, firemen start fires, burning down the houses that are known to hold the enemy: books. According to the government books were the cause of unhappiness and chaos, and through propaganda it has led its citizens to believe that books are evil and those who possess them are dangerous and eccentric. Montag in the beginning believes in the ideals of his government, but with the aid of two strangers who befriend him, he realizes the truth of the world in which he lives in, and realizes the value of books, or more importantly what they hold within. Montag realizes that the chaos and unhappiness which books were accused of causing, could be found in his everyday life, with his chaotic marriage and the unhappiness, which he felt. Montag’s realization of the truth motivates his desire to break away from the binds of society, and the fears which it feeds in order to keep people ignorant, and under control.

Though books symbolize intellect and rebellion within the story, I don’t believe Ray Bradbury believed that books are that important. In truth it’s what’s inside them that’s important, the knowledge that they carry, knowledge that provokes thought. In Fahrenheit 451, books are not some savior of mankind, but it’s the people who read them and carry their knowledge, who hold the hope for a greater future.

So at the end of the day whether you like the nostalgic feeling of holding a book, or the convenience of a tablet or iPhone, it doesn’t really matter. It’s the words, which matter, its what you gain from the writing, and the ideas and opinions birthed from the things you read. As long as the knowledge is passed along, it doesn’t matter what form it comes in.

-Gabrielle O’Connor