Reflection: “Heinrich Heine on Burning Books”

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is about a dystopian society. By definition, a dystopian society is a place where individuality and dissent are bad. They call it a dystopia for a reason. In today’s society, having to conform is not in anyone’s best interest and individuality is inevitable. Just thinking about being the same as everyone else is actually a terrifying thought… it’s just not natural. In the article “Heinrich Heine on Burning Books”, the author, Austin Cline, discusses the burning of books in Nazi Germany. The Nazi’s goal was to get rid of every conflicting idea, belief and message by burning books that contained them, in the hopes of “purifying” Germany… i.e. making everyone the same. Cline also connected the burning of books to the burning of people which occurred a little later in history (the Holocaust). After I read Austin Cline’s article, I got a brand new feeling of trepidation towards the burning of books.

In the article, Cline mentions that there is something sinister about burning books. The main goal is to eliminate a certain idea that is opposing that of the one in power; anything that would cause conflict or shake the power even in the slightest.  In Fahrenheit 451, I can’t help but think of the firefighters as the Men in Black, trying to silence spreaders of knowledge/ideas. The fact that there could be such a thing as forbidden knowledge is a troubling thought; something out there that is trying to be driven into non-existence that we aren’t supposed to and never should know about.  On the other hand, can you imagine if one day, all of a sudden, your beliefs were illegal? In my opinion, the prohibition of ideas is a terrifying concept, especially in the society we live in.

Cline said that by burning books, it really doesn’t mean the message will just be automatically eliminated. It’s like that timeless scene from the movies where a character does something embarrassing and someone takes a picture and posts it all over the school. The character then rushes to collect and destroy all the pictures but people will still find out through other people; it’s all everyone is talking about after all. That’s where the burning of people comes into play. Heinrich Heine made the statement “That was mere foreplay. Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” He couldn’t have been more correct. They tried to eliminate the ideas by burning the books but just ended up having to go straight to the messenger themselves and take care of it that way.

I agree with what Austin Cline states in the conclusion of his article: “Maybe if the connection between burning books and burning people were made more explicit, the general social condemnation would be louder.” After all, both stem from a desire to eliminate ideas that are a threat to the power, which should be concerning enough as it is. Conforming and the taking away of individuality in any sense is unnatural and unnerving and the level of censorship demonstrated in Nazi Germany only belongs in science fiction.

Sources:

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Ballantine Books, 1953. Print.

Cline, Austin. “Heinrich Heine on Burning Books”. About.com Guide. Web.

http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson926/DefinitionCharacteristics.pdf

-Charlotte

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3 thoughts on “Reflection: “Heinrich Heine on Burning Books”

  1. I loved the examples you used that helped elaborate on your ideas in your post Charlotte! I especially like the one about certain characters in movies where they seem to never be able to fully eliminate that embarrassing photo or whatnot, because it is still out there somewhere, and people have already seen it, so unless you get rid of them…Well, certainly your point was much clearer with this example! And a great point it was that no idea can fully be gone, like any energy in our atmosphere, once it’s created, it can never be destroyed, only formed into something different.

    -Kristen

  2. Charlotte. I loved the concept of individuality versus conformity. As you indicate it is definitely not natural to conform to all others around you. Your individuality creates who you are and ultimitely your happiness. I like how you related this concept to characters in movies. Thanks! Laura

  3. I loved your analogy to “Men in Black,” as well as your point about forbidden knowledge and how scary it is to think that there are things being kept from us, and that we should not know. Also I completely agree with your last point being how conforming is not natural and therefore should not be held in such high esteem!
    -Heleena

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