Sunday, March 6, 2011

In Which Trai Mini-Reviews 'Fahrenheit 451' and 'Long Day's Journey into Night'

Mini-Reviewing The Classics!

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury: You wanna hear about the ultimate lesson in irony? After I'd finished the book, on our last day of discussing it, I'm listening to one of my classmates read a selection aloud and coming to the realization that, you know, all those swear words aren't in my edition (granted, it was a very old one). Yeah. I had a censored edition of Fahrenheit 451, the ultimate anti-establishment book. I got a good laugh out of it, but now I really have to track down an unexpurgated edition.

This was one of those books that everyone read in high school but me. I somehow ended up in the classes that didn't read it, for some reason or other, and I never seemed to hear much about it from people I knew in the other classes. I'm glad I didn't, because I went into this one pretty blind, not knowing anything about it other than it being about book-burning, and it made reading this a really eye-opening experience.

I've stated before that I love books and movies about books and reading. It's a subgenre I've just come to adore, because reading is such a huge part of my life, and it's always interesting to see how other people put that experience into words and visuals. I expected to be horrified, reading about a world without books, and I was, but not in the way I expected to be. I was horrified by how prescient Bradbury's vision has turned out to be.

Guy Montag lives in a future where firemen have one purpose: not to put out fires, but to start them. Homes have long since been fireproofed, and the only threat to society now is books. Montag is fairly content with his profession, until a run-in with a very odd teenager, Clarisse, makes him take another look at his life. Clarisse makes him notice the things he's long since forgotten about: that there's dew on the grass in the mornings, that advertisements didn't always pervade every inch of society. Once Montag notices these things, he finds it difficult to revert back to his old way of thinking.

Things spiral fast, and Montag finds himself fighting back against the restrictions of his society--most particularly, the menace of his boss, the fire chief Beatty. A former English professor, Faber, becomes his only ally in a struggle against a system that has long since stopped caring about the welfare of humanity.

Stylistically, this book put me to sleep at first (the sentence structure was a bit too simple for me, although some passages were really striking), but I came to love it over time. Any one of us has the tendency to forget the little things, and Clarisse pointing them out to Montag was pretty poignant. It's not quite about the fight against censorship, though that's definitely part of it. A larger part of the book's message concerns how entertainment gradually replaced the printed word, how television and movies rendered it unnecessary. What was beginning to frighten my class was that so many of the inventions in the book are around today. The parlor walls are our flatscreen televisions. The "seashells" are our iPods or Bluetooth headsets. Paper books are disappearing due to the Kindle and Nook.

Even if how dead on it was scared me at times, I ended up loving the ending and all of this book stands for. I recommend it wholeheartedly to every person who didn't read it in high school, to any person who loves to read.


Long Day's Journey into Night, by Eugene O'Neill: Another one that played straight into my literary preferences: a nice, involved, slow-moving drama about a family and its problems. Wow, I was not expecting to feel as much as I did reading this one. I was expecting a story about a family that hated each other, and I ended up being proven wrong: these family members love each other very much indeed.

This was a semi-autobiographical effort by O'Neill, one he didn't want performed until fifty years after his death, but one that got performed before that anyway thanks to his wife. It concerns James Tyrone (mainly referred to by his surname), his wife Mary, and their two sons, Jamie and Edmund. James, Jamie, and Edmund are all alcoholics, and Mary has demons of her own. And the fun doesn't stop there: Jamie has been racking up debts due to his drinking and visits with prostitutes, Edmund might have consumption, and Tyrone's money--which could go a long way towards solving the family's problems--is all tied up in real estate. Hooboy. We get one day in the life of this family, as they fight their way towards some sort of understanding.

Like I said, this one surprised me. Just when I thought I knew something about a character, I'd find out I was wrong. I thought Tyrone felt nothing but disappointment for his sons, but then we get a scene or two where Edmund voices that assumption, only to be proven wrong by a very hurt Tyrone. As always, I'm a sucker for well-written dialogue and well-developed characters, and they were in full force here. I can see that O'Neill really did take this one from life. I'd love to see this one performed; as it is, I'm hoping to, someday soon, check out a few of the different film versions.

I'd like to read this one again, simply because the sheer amount of references to other works made me extremely curious to look them up, and because I was so enthralled by reading this that I just want to revisit it and get that experience again. I'd definitely recommend this one to fans of classic drama that haven't read it already, or to someone that just wants a really good, suprisingly dense and issue-filled play.

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