Is Ignorance the Face of Illiteracy?
“Give a man a few lines of verse and he thinks he’s the Lord of all Creation. You think you can walk on water with your books. Well, the world can get by just fine without them” (Bradbury 112). For anyone who has read Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury, this aggressive and one-sided viewpoint should sound familiar, for it is often present in Beatty, the fire captain and seemingly primary antagonist of the novel. But perhaps the most startling thing about this comment is its relevance to the modern day. Bradbury’s masterpiece, despite being written around sixty eight years ago, still warns of the impact and suffering that may come of illiteracy, ignorance, and complacency. Back at the time of writing, the radios and televisions were state-of-the-art, shiny new toys for humanity to become engrossed with. While they are no longer a novelty, the possibilities that they and their modern technological counterparts may harm the nation are still present. This danger, however, all comes down to the ability to think for one’s self. This nature is a key focus of Fahrenheit 451, and is something that should not be taken lightly.
The effect of this technology in Bradbury’s world may be more drastic and severe than it is presently, but that is not to say the greatest evil depicted in the novel is not also present in the nonfictional world: ignorance. Ignorance is a trait that can, and has, led to the destruction of societies. When asked in an interview about how he predicted America to be in the future due to what was depicted in his novel, Bradbury claimed that his prediction was seemingly accurate because: “I was considering the whole social atmosphere: the impact of TV and radio and the lack of education.” It is this noted lack of education, a necessity directly linked to literacy, that drives ignorance. In Fahrenheit 451, it is ignorance towards the importance of literature that slowly leads to the degradation of literacy and in turn society. While I am glad to say that has not happened in the modern world, it is not to say literacy is not at risk. In the United States, people of color and lower socioeconomic status have a harder time getting educated, and therefore threatening literacy rates.
The real issue at hand, however, is those who have the opportunity, but instead choose to have information fed to them from a biased spoon, one which leads them to complacency, and then to ignorance and foolishness. It is this population that, should it expand, not only possibly increase the amount of illiteracy among other groups, but also slowly bring civilization to a spiritually bland standstill. As mentioned in Fahrenheit 451, the people of Bradbury’s future were not originally banned from books, but rather turned away from them, ignoring them, until they were practically forgotten: “‘So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless’” (79). It is here that Bradbury depicts a certain sentiment of perfection being a luxury, something that is ruined via advanced thought and ideas. The idea that “comfortable people” want things perfect and effortless, is what I believe to be the most significant face of ignorance, and therefore the most notable threat to society should literacy be forced down to make way for new, advanced technologies and media platforms that discourage free thought and thinking for oneself.
Bradbury, Ray. “Conversation with Ray Bradbury.” Ballantine Books, 2003.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. Ballantine Books, 1953.