In his article “Fahrenheit 451* on Cell Block D: A Bar Examination to Safeguard America’s Jailhouse Lawyers from the Post-Lewis Blaze Consuming Their Law Libraries,” Evan Seamone writes about a movement taking place in some of the most restricted areas of American life. The author writes about a movement taking place in prisons around the country, where prison guards are removing law books and restricting the reading time and efforts of inmates. As the author makes clear, this removal of law books is designed to limit the ability of prisoners to educate themselves on the issues that impact them, and truly, it is an attempt to control these individuals. The prisons and prison guards would prefer a prison population that is not able to argue and fight back. In a place where absolute control is so often applied, the only way for individuals to assert themselves is through learning, and potentially through a lawsuit that might threaten the sanctity of the jail and the sanctity of the jailers. Bradbury would have looked upon this with disdain for a number of different reasons, seeing the fear and control elements of censorship, as well as seeing some irony in who was doing the censoring.
One of the most interesting elements of Bradbury’s book was that the people who burned books were firefighters. These people are traditionally seen as the great protectors of society, but Bradbury flipped the script in some ways. He had them not as the great protectors, but rather, as people who would go around and do the bidding of the power brokers. The same is true in the article from Seamone. The people who removed the books were prison guards. They were men in uniform who are supposed to be trusted to protect the rights of prisoners and ensure that prisoners are given what they need in order to survive and prosper even. That men in uniform were doing the book censoring in the Iowa prison in question is a perfect allusion to Bradbury’s work in which the least expected people are the ones participating the most fervently.
In addition, Bradbury might see in this article some reflection of the fear he wrote about in Fahrenheit 451. In his work, he wrote that when people begin to get scared, they seek out more control than ever. A scared society is one that can justify almost anything, and when a society is scared, it begins to see ghosts around every corner that could potentially harm the people. This is an interesting take when considering the article. In the article, the prison guards are responding out of fear. They fear that the prisoners will begin to learn more and more about the rights of inmates to file lawsuits over maltreatment. At the heart of the movement to remove these books is fear that the books can lead to something that would harm the men running the prisons.
The other issue is control. The powers that be understand that books hold knowledge. Knowledge is the enemy because it means that people cannot be controlled. Just as Bradbury wrote and warned, the prison officials wanted their inmates to be as ignorant of the law as possible. This way, they can be lied to, they can be manipulated, and they can be made to believe any number of things they might not have believed otherwise. It is true that Bradbury’s book can be taken as both a warning and a prediction. If one believes this framing of the book, then one could easily envision the situation in Iowa as being a manifestation of both of those things, demonstrating how prescient Bradbury was.
- Seamone, Evan R. “Fahrenheit 451* on Cell Block D: A Bar Examination to Safeguard America’s Jailhouse Lawyers from the Post-Lewis Blaze Consuming Their Law Libraries.” Yale Law & Policy Review 24.1 (2015): 4.