Hauntingly relevant: ‘Fahrenheit 451’ comes to Fitchburg

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERABy PJ Carmichael

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel, Fitchburg State University has teamed up with local community partners, including the Fitchburg Public Library and Fitchburg Art Museum, to host a series of events to celebrate the timeless story of Fahrenheit 451. The main event of the series is a September 24th play adaptation of the novel presented at Fitchburg State University by the Aquila Theatre. Additional events include weekly book readings and discussions at the Fitchburg Public Library, film screenings and conversations, and art workshops at the Fitchburg Art Museum.

The themes and messages of Fahrenheit 451 are just as relevant today as they were when the novel was published in 1953. The legendary French New Wave director Francois Truffaut directed the superb film version of the story in 1966, which depicted technological advances to the extreme in society, so that devices such as flat-screen tvs and computers would keep the masses entertained, sedated, and docile.

Bradbury’s novel is startlingly visionary and disturbingly accurate. The author envisioned a world where apathy has driven the general public to abandon individual expression. Rather than initial government censorship, people are continuously catered to and entertained by frivolous and meaningless mass media; which eventually leads to the banning and burning of books. Critical thinking and analytical skills are extremely discouraged, and conformity is essentially forced. Simple pleasure and ignorant bliss have become social norms in Bradbury’s novel, which is not too far from the case in America today. Print media, specifically the book as a form of communication is becoming more and more obsolete. Computers and the Internet allow for the almost instantaneous discovery and communication of information.  The way we communicate has also changed, as people use technology as a substitute for face-to-face interaction.

Mary Chapin Durling, director of CenterStage at Fitchburg State University, has noted the importance of critical thought, analysis, and reading. “I care about reading,” says Chapin Durling. “I care about intellectual engagement. I am passionate about using the arts as a way into that kind of engagement.” She further emphasizes her commitment to knowledge and educating others by declaring, “It is important for us to bring humanities issues to college students.” To Fitchburg State students, Bradbury’s  messages from Fahrenheit 451 still resonate. Is his  frighteningly accurate portrayal of a society marked by ignorance and indifference coming true?

Mitch Severt, a sophomore majoring in Video Production, has read the novel, along with many other short stories by Bradbury, and discussed the relevance of the book and other writings by the same author. “Ray Bradbury writes with the experience of a thousand people from a thousands books,” says Severt. “Self-taught, Ray Bradbury is a magnificent writer because he understands people. Part of what makes Fahrenheit 451 such an amazing story is that he captures what makes us human… and what makes us un-human. The darkness that lies within us, but also what is good within us.”

Severt also compares  the internal battle faced by the protagonist of the story to the struggles of individuals in modern society. He explains, “Fahrenheit 451 is the internal battle of Guy Montag, an internal battle which we all face today in our society. People today fear society, so desperate to fit into a world that seemingly isn’t made for them. They question it, but they stop when the cognitive dissonance is too much.”

Others, such as Chelsea Bergman, a junior and professional communications major, note the importance of literature when considering Fahrenheit 451. “After reading the novel, it opened me up to my surroundings and how people in society today are reading a lot less than they did years ago,” Bergman says. She also comments that, “Bradbury’s novel is scary realistic. The novel as a whole is a must-read and I highly recommend it.”

Overall, Bradbury’s novel portrays a nightmarish world filled with humans that have given up the ability to analyze and think critically.  Instead, the characters in the book exchange passion and individuality for some cheap amusement by machines. The novel identifies and criticizes the use of mass media as a tool to “dumb down” the population, while simultaneously praising literacy and inquisitive thought. When observing modern American society, it seems that Bradbury’s vision may indeed come to pass.

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