An article making the rounds the other day noted that Ray Bradbury predicted all this, writing in his dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451, that people would demand tyranny and censorship, that it would not be forced upon us but enforced by popular demand. Yes, Bradbury’s book does contain that bleakness.
But Fahrenheit 451 ends with hope, with Granger talking about a silly damn bird called a Phoenix that burned itself up every few hundred years and then got himself born all over again, adding that we’re the same but we’ve got one thing the Phoenix didn’t have: the ability to remember all the silly damn things we’ve done, and as long as we know that and remember, some day we’ll stop making the goddam funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them.
“And some day we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest goddam steamshovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in and cover it up. Come on now, we’re going to go build a mirror-factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the next year and take a long look in them.”
Every generation has people who remember and preserve the lessons and whisper encouragement to the peacemakers. Every generation we gain a few more who remember, and oh so quietly the biggest goddam steamshovel in history is being assembled, and someday someone is going to stop before he throws a punch or a Molotov cocktail or burns a book, and he’ll say to himself, “How stupid is this?”
Sometime after the end of Fahrenheit 451, someone found an old printing press and dusted it off and oiled it up and started making books, a little at a time, and people taught each other how to read them and write them and start to understand each other again.
That’s the difference between this novel and the other great dystopian works — Nineteen Eighty-four and Brave New World have bleak endings, the individual crushed by Big Brother and the gaping foolishness of society, but Fahrenheit 451 ends with hope, because Bradbury saw the potential in the heart of humanity. He looked up and saw the stars.