The world that Bradbury envisions here is commonly called a “dystopia.” It is usually seen as a plausible, though exaggerated, warning of a possible and terrible future. I disagree, however, with this common understanding of this novel. On the contrary, what Bradbury provides the reader with here is not a distant dystopian future; it is an allegorical representation of our present. We live in the world of Fahrenheit 451.
While there are no firemen running from house to house to burn our books, the average American household has already done the job for them by refusing to house books in the first place. While front porches are not banned, as in this novel, we have done that job too by severing ourselves from our communities and our families and the dialogue such relationship must inevitably produce. We refuse to talk about great things, even about common things like meaning and death. Instead, just as do the people in the novel, we drown out the sound of our own thoughts with televisions, computers, and iPads. Rather than feel our suffering and get to know ourselves as we really are, we numb ourselves with medications.
Unfortunately, Bradbury has no solution to offer to the predicament we have gotten ourselves into other than to allow it to run its course and, as will inevitably happen, to self-destruct. Equally unfortunately, there is probably indeed no other solution than this. Meanwhile, us “book people” must remain at the fringes, quietly imbibing the great truths of the past and waiting for the day when civilization will call upon us to rebuild itself.