First Place: The Undeniable Merit of Literature by Luke Donovan
Books have been the most widely used medium through which mankind has portrayed images of great deeds and thoughts. Through the ink on the page and the imagination of the individual reader, books allow us to travel into another’s mind and, in turn, learn more about ourselves. In Ray Bradbury’s masterpiece, Fahrenheit 451, the main character, Guy Montag, lives in a world in which books have been outlawed in favor of media and entertainment that are easier to comprehend and less thought-provoking. The world explored in Fahrenheit 451 is much like our own, in that both of our worlds need books for humanity to experience the best life possible; books are needed for us to live life to the fullest.
Books have shown us what it is to be human. The written word allows our imaginations to work and to develop pictures and emotions that are of the highest fidelity. These emotions captivate mankind in a way that can hardly be duplicated. Most of the great thinkers and leaders of all time have been inspired by books. Abraham Lincoln was himself a voracious reader whose accomplishments were fueled by his self-contemplation during his youth, which was in turn aided by literature. Books are so impacting that they can be almost impossible to live without. In Fahrenheit 451, Montag encounters a woman who chooses to burn with her books rather than survive without them. She chooses to become a martyr for the written word.
Books portray ideas and feelings that help society as a whole. The written word allows people to express their views about society and government in a way that is nearly impossible to otherwise. On the page, a writer can organize and express his or her feelings and experiences without time limits or pushy moderators. The mind of the reader is free. Free to peruse these thoughts again and again, and free to draw his or her own thoughts and opinions. In Fahrenheit 451 the people have become so ignorant of their society and government that imminent nuclear war is not an issue. There was no author to express the outrage, only a ‘telescreen’ and a family trying to make one happy for the moment.
People need the stimulation that books create. The emotional and intellectual stimulation provided by books is needed in order to fulfill our human potential. Humans were meant to think, feel, and be alive, not to be surrounded by a feel-good atmosphere like the one present in Bradbury’s future world. In Fahrenheit 451, Mildred, Montag’s wife, is an example of a person whose mind has been poisoned by dearth of emotion and imagination. Mildred tries to commit suicide and is unaware of that fact the very next day. One way to interpret this incident is to see that her suicide attempt was a desperate response by a starved sub-conscious craving emotion and stimulation. Furthermore, the media presented in Fahrenheit 451 is not so different from our own. Television makes money by getting our attention in the time it takes to turn a channel. We are bombarded daily by media that only scrapes the surface of emotion and thought. We are left wanting more, and in desperation turn to greater and greater amounts of entertainment. However, this entertainment does not quench our deepest needs. Media today is meant to be gorged by the viewer, not savored.
Books allow mankind to reach its potential and to search the depths of existence. Man was meant to feel sorrow. Man was meant to feel pain. These emotions define us; they are a part of what is human. Books allow us to explore these emotions in a way other media cannot. Living in a world of carefree happiness will only leave us sub-human. Fahrenheit 451 emphasizes this in a way that is yet to be repeated. Books are indeed needed for our humanity to survive.