Throwback Thursday: Fahrenheit 451

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books. We choose a book we remember fondly and recommend to our adoring readers to add to their To Read Pile. Plus, we get to link up and all give our fellow bloggers some comment love. Win-Win! This week, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write about Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, who passed away this week at the age of 91.

Fahrenheit 451

First, please, before you turn off your computer today, go read this post by Peter Sagal about Bradbury. It’s poignant and perfect. Thank you.

Now, on to the book. As most of you know, I taught high school English for five years before capping my grading pen and heading home to play with my babies. I loved teaching Ray Bradbury, his short stories and especially Fahrenheit 451 – if for no other reason than to tell my students,

“THIS!! THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON’T READ FOR MY CLASS!!”

Why? Well, because Fahrenheit 451 shows what happens when you stop caring about reading or thinking for yourself or forming critical opinions based on what other people have written – essentially an English teacher’s diatribe in novel form.

The novel follows Guy Montag, a fireman, who starts fires rather than extinguishes them. Montag and his unit work to burn all books they find along with the houses where the books are found. The book starts out with a great first line, “It was a pleasure to burn.”

And he did. That is Montag enjoyed his job and life as far as he could tell until he meets a 17-year-old girl named Clarisse who asks him questions about his life, and she shows a concern for nature and the world around her – more than anyone else Montag has ever encountered. Montag tried to talk to his wife about his new questions, but she spends more time interacting with “families” on their “wall.” (Think flat screen television and social networking combined). Plus, anytime his wife felt distressed or nervous, she would take a pill to make those concerns go away.

Montag starts to wonder if books might actually hold some importance, maybe he is missing something in his life. After meeting Clarisse, Montag faces significant and disturbing events that send him on a hunt for information. His mind fills with questions: Why do we really burn books? Should life mean something else?

Why would someone risk death over words on a page?

This novel, in many ways, reflects the current climate of America, and Bradbury wrote it in 1950. At first glance, most quickly sum up Fahrenheit 451 as a book about censorship and its consequences. Actually, Fahrenheit 451 is more about what happens to a society when it stops reading. When society would rather be entertained than learn. When people stop questioning and just accept the facts handed to them. When it’s easier to watch semi-reality rather than live a real life.

Sound familiar? The details in Montag’s society offer an almost eerie familiarity: flat screen televisions, televised high speed car chases, social networking, a version of the iPod, fast cars, pills for everything, overly busy society with nothing really to do.

Bradbury’s book serves as a warning to never quit thinking for yourself and to welcome individuality and freedom of thought. It’s worth the fight.

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  1. #1 by Lauren@The Housework Can Wait on June 7, 2012 - 8:19 am

    I have a confession to make. I never read this book. And here’s why.

    I had a really, really batty English teacher my senior year of high school, and she always assigned me the same grade on everything — 98 — no matter what I did. I had a friend who always got a 94. No matter what.

    We had a list of books that we were supposed to read and report on throughout the course of the year. We could pick and choose which books from the list we wanted to do at what point. This book was on the list. So was A Brave New World.

    It was the end of the year. Our teacher was a raving loon. We had senioritis. And so we decided to do an experiment. I had already read and written a report on A Brave New World. My friend had already read and written a report on Fahrenheit 451. So instead of reading another book, we each wrote another paper on the book we had already read, and put the other person’s name on the paper. As expected, the paper with my name on it got a 98. The paper with her name on it got a 94. Thus confirming to our 17-year-old selves, it really didn’t have anything to do with the quality of our work. The teacher just liked me more.

    And that was my big cheater story from high school. Although I have a couple other doozies that come close from that same class.

    So now I’m going to need to read Fahrenheit 451, because it’s getting embarrassing that I never have.

    Great Throwback this week! Way to be relevant 🙂

    My Throwback

  2. #2 by Jessica on June 7, 2012 - 8:50 am

    I’ll admit that I haven’t read it either. For some reason, my AP English classes never required it. Huh. Anyway, I do feel a need to read it now. I’ve been feeling it for a while. My favorite Bradbury has always been The Martian Chronicles. I read that one in a science fiction literature class (greatest class ever).

    Great choice! My Throwback

  3. #3 by Gabby @ What's Beyond Forks? on June 7, 2012 - 8:59 am

    You’re not alone Lauren. I somehow never read this one either. I had the option to read this book too in highschool, but never did. I don’t know why. My knowledge of him came mostly from television shows like The Twilight Zone and Ray Bradbury Presents. My dad and I used to watch them when I was growing up. Ray Bradbury was a genius. I was saddened to learn of his passing.

    Gabby 🙂
    My Throwback Thursday

  4. #4 by Mandi Kaye (@mandikaye) on June 7, 2012 - 9:08 pm

    I also never read this one. I did, however, read The Martian Chronicles. But I feel as if I may have deprived myself by not reading this one… I must rectify that. Thanks for sharing it!

  5. #5 by Breaking the Binding on June 7, 2012 - 9:29 pm

    I love this book so very much. In fact it’s only 1 of 2 books that were required High School reading that I have read multiples times and actually enjoyed. Guy Montag always tops my lists of favorite rebels in literature and I love the development and struggle he goes through,

    Due to the events of this week, i think this one is up for a re-read as soon as possible. Thanks for sharing!

  6. #6 by Steph on June 21, 2012 - 10:22 pm

    The new graphic novel version of Fahrenheit 451 came out a little while back and was authorized by Bradbury. The Moon Moth by Jack Vance was also recently published as a graphic novel. It’s such a great way to get kids into some of these books and they’re both well done. Excellent choice in books.

  7. #7 by kellywiggains on June 22, 2012 - 5:10 pm

    I would love to read the Fahrenheit 451 graphic novel!

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