Saturday, October 2, 2010

Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 50th Anniversary cover;
Ballantine Books
In honor of Banned Books Week Sept. 25-Oct. 2
Review: Fahrenheit 451
By Ray Bradbury
Many book lovers and librarians would agree that Fahrenheit 451 would be our worst nightmare, a society where firefighters burn books because they are considered "dangerous." This is the very reason that we fight so hard during Banned Books Week and the rest of the year to keep this future from becoming more of a reality than it already is.

Many of the chapters in the book are chilling and unforgettable. The scene that sticks the most is one where the Firemen, including protagonist Guy Montag, enter the home of an elderly woman. The woman rather than submit to their laws sets kerosene and burns to death taking her beloved books with her. It takes someone like that to recognize how important these ideas are and how people would rather die than submit. Another unforgettable image are the Book People, people who are in hiding that memorize their books word by word so that they can never be destroyed.
The characters are pretty well recognized as microcosms of their society. Montag is the former conformist, who reveals his secret passion for reading and joins the rebels. There's Captain Beatty, the good party leader who knows the power that reading can give people so he's driven to stop it. There's Prof. Faber, an intellectual who does his part to help the readers in private. Then there are Mildred Montag, Guy's wife, and Clarisse McClellan, practically two halves of the same woman (made even more obvious in the 1966 film since they were played by the same woman, Julie Christie). Mildred is a flighty couch potato so drawn to the "wall screen" that she considers them family more than her husband. Clarisse is a free-thinking willful young woman who questions all around her. These two women demonstrate the halves of society, the conformists and the rebels.
Bradbury maintains that he never really intended Fahrenheit 451 to be just a book about censorship. Instead he saw it as a commentary on the "dumbing down of society because of television and movies" something that Beatty alludes to when he explains how easy it is to control a society that doesn't think beyond what is handed to them. Looking at this book and society today, I can believe it.

Links For Further Discussion and Activity Suggestions

Banned Books Week Display Ideas- These are ideas that promote the importance of literacy and fighting censorship. How do they use different mediums to capture the idea? What are suggestions that you would have to denounce censorship?

Frequently Challenged Book List-Updated yearly these are the most challenged books currently. Read through the titles. Do you recognize any of them? Choose a title and read it for yourself? Why was it challenged? What instances from the books would be considered controversial? Would you agree with the decision, why or why not?

Questions for Further Discussion:
1. Think about banned books. Why are books banned? For what reason? Is censorship ever justifiable? What are some of your favorite books that have been challenged?  What were the reasons for their challenges Think about what is the effect of censorship on both the censors and the censored? Does it produce negative effects on both?

2.  Besides censorship, Bradbury also wanted to comment on society in his day. Do you feel that modern day television like reality TV, celebrity culture, and the Internet erode our desire to think? What effects do you think this will have on reading and free thought?

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