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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Blog No. 30--Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

GENRE: Classic Fiction—Crossover

Title: Fahrenheit 451
Author: Ray Bradbury

Bibliographic Information:
Reading level: Young Adult and Adult
Mass Market Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books; ZZZ edition (August 12, 1987)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0345342968
ISBN-13: 978-0345342966
Grades: 9 and up
Interest: 9 and up

Prometheus Award, 2004

Reader’s Annotation:
Guy Montag is a fireman who burns books for a living. When he meets a teenage girl named Clarisse, he begins to question his purpose and sets out to change the world as he knows it, despite all the harm that may come to him and his family.

Plot Summary:
This book is divided into three parts. The first, “The Hearth and the Salamander” is where we meet Guy Montag, the thirty-year-old fireman who is the protagonist of the story. For the past ten years, Montag has been “protecting” society by burning books. He and his wife, Mildred, live comfortably in the suburbs, and she stays home watching “the family” on three walls of television screens while Guy goes out to work. Her biggest goal is for Guy to make enough money so that they can purchase a fourth screen on the remaining wall, so that she can be surrounded by the family on television. But this “family” is a mixed group of messages that are controlled—the programs tell people how to feel, what to think and how to behave, but no one even cares—no one even understands that they are being manipulated. The fact that the world is in shambles and in danger of war is unknown to them—or anyone else who lives in this society. Yet, they seem to be happy—until Guy meets teenaged Clarisse McClellan, a youngster who not only challenges Montag’s authority to burn books, but ahs the audacity to ask “Are you happy?” This changed Montag, who begins to feel the dissatisfaction he has never really thought about. When he comes home to fins Mildred almost dying of a drug overdose, (drugs are something this society condones so no one “feels,”) he really begins to question the purpose of his existence. This makes life difficult because of the mechanical Hound—a tracker used to find people with illegal book collections. But the Hound, as it is called, begins to pick up on Montag’s doubts, and begins to suspect him of being disloyal—especially after the fire department murders an old lady who is caught with a house full of books.

In part two, “The Sieve and the Sand” Montag questions more. He is eager to read—to see what is in the books that are so demonized by the government. He begins reading several books, and Millie begins to feel very threatened. But Montag doesn’t understand half of what he has read, because he’s never been taught to understand. He seeks out Faber, an old man, who begins to teach him. On his way to see Faber, Montag tries to memorize part of the Bible, which is forbidden, but loud advertisements on the train “brainwash” him, and keep him from doing so. Eventually, he meets up with Faber, and Montag begins to learn about what books can and cannot do for people. Faber convinces Montag to make a plan to save the book.

Part three, “Burning Bright” find Millie leaving Montag, and Beatty, the fire captain and Montag’s boss, beginning to think Montag is some kind of traitor. Montag goes through many more trials and tribulations, and eventually finds out what the government has been hiding all along.

Critical Evaluation:
I cannot think of a novel that is more important to American society than Fahrenheit 451. Of all books I have ever read, this one stands out as being the epitome of anti-censorship, as well as an eerie prognosticator of where out society might easily be headed today. Back in 1953 when this novel was published, Bradbury had no idea that what he had written would have come to pass—television was in its infancy, and peoples’ reaction to it had barely been aired. Yet, here in the first decade of the millennium, Bradbury’s novel rings so true—we are almost at a crisis of knowledge and information in America. What is easily obtainable is not knowledge, but information that passes as commerce rather than critical thinking. This is what Bradbury warns about—that excessive Capitalism and crass commercialization will dull the sense of people; the necessity not to offend anyone will prevent positive and informative discourse; and religious impulses will force the censoring of books and materials that allow people to think for themselves. How ironically prophetic—and sadly true—this novel has turned out to be. Yet, there is hope, as there always is with Bradbury: the opportunity for salvation of society exists when people wake up. How I hope this will happen in America soon!

Probably the most important books of all time, this novel was written to show the dangers of the McCarthy era. But, here in 2010, this novel rings even more true, as we sit immersed in a society where honesty and common sense is considered neither racially nor politically correct.

Reading level/Interest Age:
Fahrenheit 451 is rightly on many high schools’ required reading lists for either the 9th or 10th grades. This novel will appeal to idealistic teens, as well as any adult who question any society that condones censorship for the sake of protection.

Information about the Author:
Raymond Douglass Bradbury was born in 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois, and spent his early childhood going to libraries and reading with the help of an aunt who felt it was important. In 1934, his family moved to California, and young Ray began enchanted with movies—especially old horror films that filled him with both excitement and fueled his imagination. At the ripe age of fifteen, he began writing short stories and joined he LA Science Fiction Leagues. . He graduated from Los Angeles high school in 1938. Throughout the 1940s Bradbury wrote many short stories for the pulp magazines like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories. His first collection, Dark Carnival, was published in 1947. Shortly thereafter, he married Marguerite McClure, an advertising executive. She worked while he stayed home and wrote.
In 1950, his famous Martian Chronicles was published, and Bradbury was regarded as one of the important science fiction writers of his time. Other important works include The Illustrated Man (1951), Dandelion Wine (1957) and Something Wicked this Way Comes (1962). A note dystopian writer, his works suggest a negative future where humankind is oppressed—yet there is usually a slight “ray” of hope. Much of Bradbury’s works has been made into TV programs of films, and he is considered one of the most prolific—and important—writers in his genre. Ray and Marguerite have four daughters. He is still with us today, surviving his wife who dies nearly fifteen years ago.

Curriculum Ties:
The quintessential dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451 is a great book to use in a future shock unit. It is an essential read, and an important book.

Challenge Issues:
This book is on ALA’s Top 100 Most Challenged Books from 200-2009. It is number 69 out of 100. It is ironic that people chalenge what they most need to head.

Why I Included This Book:
It is one of my favorite books of all time, and is eerily pertinent to today’s society. I met Ray Bradbury in 1990, and he was incredibly inspirational in person, as he is through his large body of work. He is probably one of the most important authors of all time—if you haven’t read Bradbury, you haven’t experienced science fiction.

Image Courtesy of http://editourist.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/fahrenheit.jpg

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