I remember I was on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania when I finished reading Fahrenheit 451. I was at a camp maintained by Boy Scouts, a clean and elegantly designed shelter scarred only with the signatures of many dozens of prepubescent boys. My companions for the night were a diverse group of interesting characters, some out for the night, some making the same journey I had signed up for. For every one of us it seemed it was an escape. My companions remained anonymous until I finished the last bits of the book. They could tell something about it struck me deep. But I couldn’t puts words to it. With my confusion, I ripped out the last fifty pages, those that had hit me so hard. I was going to carry this with me for the rest of the trip, read and reread it and discover why it had meant so much. The rest of the book, in a bit of irony, we used to start a fire.
Those fifty pages soon, however, fell to the bottom of my pack. Upon arrival home after the exhausting adventure, they were lost in a shoe box among the maps that kept me in the right direction on my trip. A few months ago, in my last semester in college, I found ripped out pages. I couldn’t remember why I had kept them. So I sat down, and reread the last fifty pages of the book.
You must remember, burn them or they’ll burn you, he thought. Right now it’s as simple as that.
He searched his pockets, the money was there, and in his other pocket he found the usual Seashell upon which the city was talking to itself in the cold black morning.
“Police Alert. Wanted: Fugitive in city. Has committed murder and crimes against the State. Name: Guy Montag. Occupation: Fireman. Last seen . . .”
He ran steadily for six blocks, in the alley, and then the alley opened out on to a wide empty thoroughfare ten lanes wide. It seemed like a boatless river frozen there in the raw light of the high white arc-lamps; you could drown trying to cross it, he felt; it was too wide, it was too open. It was a vast stage without scenery, inviting him to run across, easily seen in the blazing illumination, easily caught, easily shot down.
The Seashell hummed in his ear.
“… watch for a man running … watch for the running man . . . watch for a man alone, on foot . . . watch…”
Montag pulled back into the shadows.
On the screen, a man turned a corner. The Mechanical Hound rushed forward into the viewer, suddenly. The helicopter light shot down a dozen brilliant pillars that built a cage all about the man.
A voice cried, “There’s Montag! The search is done!”
The innocent man stood bewildered, a cigarette burning in his hand. He stared at the Hound, not knowing what it was. He probably never knew. He glanced up at the sky and the wailing sirens. The cameras rushed down. The Hound leapt up into the air with a rhythm and a sense of timing that was incredibly beautiful. Its needle shot out. It was suspended for a moment in their gaze, as if to give the vast audience time to appreciate everything, the raw look of the victim’s face, the empty street, the steel animal a bullet nosing the target.
“Montag, don’t move!” said a voice from the sky.
The camera fell upon the victim, even as did the Hound. Both reached him simultaneously. The victim was seized by Hound and camera in a great spidering, clenching grip. He screamed. He screamed. He screamed!
I am not a conspiracy theorist, nor am I willing to suggest that Dzhokar Tsarnaev could be considered a protagonist. But these similarities between the final chapters of Fahrenheit 451 and the Boston manhunt are shocking and scary. What others may see as a bout of nationalistic pride, I see as an excuse for satisfying our cravings for sensationalism and death. People have been glued to their televisions, watching this whole scene unfold. It was actually enjoyable for people. They wanted to watch someone die. People sat hunched over their computer screens, thriving off the terror of the videos of the explosion and the scenes of death of the terrorist. What I am suggesting is that the line between protagonist and antagonist, savior and crook, freedom-fighter and foreign terrorist, good guy and bad guy may not be as defined as we would like to think.