The Book Cook Look Club is a small Australian based book club combining three much-loved activities: reading, cooking and films. Declan, a member of the club, will be recapping his experience each month right here on The Nerd Daily!
BOOK | One person selects a book for everyone to read over the next month.
COOK | The book selector hosts a dinner party with a themed meal related to the book.
LOOK | We compare the film adaptation to its source material.
1984, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 – many consider these the trilogy of prophetic political dystopian novels for the twentieth century. Each author (Orwell, Huxley and Bradbury) takes a different angle of the future, and each of their works are gradually becoming increasingly relevant to modern society.
The time came for me to host the book club for the month, and when it came to my cooking I aimed to impress. I ran with the theme of fire and smoke, so as the guests arrived I served smoked oysters on crackers for hors d’oeuvres and tomato soup for entrée.
I began the discussion explaining that the reason I chose the book stemmed from my love for Orwell’s 1984. My recent delving into Huxley’s Brave New World also renewed my interest in the political dystopian novels of the twentieth century. While science fiction is often the recognised genre for making technological predictions about the future, these novels are prophetic on a more social and cultural level.
Rather than purely looking at the impact of human technology in the future (although this is certainly an aspect of their novels), these writers examine historical patterns to make educated predictions on three main topics:
- How people will interact within social contexts
- The role of education and intellectualism in society
- The distinction between superficial and profound happiness
After getting my spiel out of the way, I brought dinner into the dining room: smoked salmon pasta, served on a bain-marie with live flames beneath to keep it warm.
We also started to delve into the imagery of Fahrenheit 451. Sarah brought up the Salamander as an interesting point of contention, finding the symbolism a little heavy-handed. Within mythology, salamanders typically have an affinity with fire, and so giving their name to the fire engine is a natural connection to make. This isn’t the only animal symbolism to be found – the mechanical hound is reminiscent of the mythological hellhound, once again bringing fire imagery to mind.
Despite Sarah’s point about the metaphors being a little forced, I wanted to give Bradbury credit where it’s due as he certainly worked in some subtle imagery into the book as well. For example, Montag’s submersion in the river towards the end signals a significant new step in his life – one that moves away from the pure, destructive energy of fire and towards the cool, calming presence of water and knowledge.
I was, however, a little confused about Mildred’s attempted suicide, which was brushed over so quickly it was barely noticeable. Sarah reasoned that this is a reflection of the setting itself – take a pill, and no more troubles. Happiness and satisfaction is overvalued to the point of self-deterioration, and death seems to be the easy way out for those struggling with vaguely upsetting issues.
This is a common theme in political dystopian fiction. If faced with an unfamiliar or uncomfortable problem, block it out with drugs, meaningless platitudes, and anything that will distract you from thinking. But more so than this, it reflects a scary precedent in modern society where blissful escapism is given infinitely more value than confronting reality.
I stepped out of the dining room for a little while to prepare dessert – a caramelised, rum-infused banana flambé. When I returned, the group was discussing Bradbury’s historical context. Enter Alec with his controversial opinion of the month, which apparently has now become such a frequent occurrence it is heralded by its very own theme song.
Alec noted that Bradbury is strongly against modern forms of media that aren’t books, with this perhaps being one of the novel’s biggest weaknesses. At times it does come across as a little didactic and narrow-minded with Bradbury’s completely pessimistic attitude towards television and film.
Sarah countered this, stating that Bradbury was simply a man of his time. The world of multimedia was a new and frightening thing, especially with the threat of televisions in every household seemingly removing the need for books. Historical context is truly integral to grasping the author’s full intentions.
Dystopian texts today tend to be aimed more towards young adult audiences, with their social commentary revolving around more contemporary issues such as prejudice or climate change. On a more general level, the genre is intended to reflect the very real concerns held by the people of the era by imagining a future where the worst possible scenario has taken place.
Fahrenheit 451 achieves this by criticising the rising wave of anti-intellectualism brought about by McCarthyism of the 1950’s, and yet at the same time it holds an important message that resonates within many other contexts too. It is an area of fiction not intended for fun, whimsical reading, but one definitely worth dipping into if you are up for serious contemplation and staying up at night stressing about the state of the world.
What are your thoughts on Fahrenheit 451? Let us know in the comments below!