Fahrenheit 451: Books with “Texture”
By Tomek Grzesiak
In teaching middle and high school students about the role and importance of books, an educator would be hard pressed to find a more suitable text than Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Despite its publication in 1953, Bradbury’s novel provides a futuristic vision of world eerily similar to our own. Lonely individuals fill these pages. Virtual “families” found on the television walls replace the bonds of family and friends. The incessant chatter from one’s “seashell” headphones replaces conversation. Despair and senseless violence replace the pursuit of happiness.
Most hauntingly, Bradbury’s world is not one simply imposed by a totalitarian regime. As one of Bradbury’s characters is careful to explain, this world is the fulfilled desire of its inhabitants, individuals whose craving for unimpeded comfort and a mirage of intellectual security trumped all other considerations.
The story’s protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman tasked with the burning of books. But his confidence in his work and his world are shaken by the innocent question of his young neighbor, Clarisse McClellan: “Are you happy?” Montag’s contemplation of this question ruins him for his meaningless world, sparking a desire to rediscover the rich and dangerous ideas that give life its meaning.
Faber, an old professor Montag befriends in his search for happiness, best summarizes Bradbury’s remedy for this society. Faber diagnoses the ills of their world, arguing for the return of quality books, leisure, and the right to carry out what we learn from the interaction of the two.
Writers quote Bradbury as having said, “People ask me to predict the future, when what I want is to prevent it.” Almost 70 years later, i Bradbury would seem to have failed. Yet through the transmission and study of good books like this one, we offer the next generation an opportunity to rediscover what we have lost.
Download a (PDF format) poster of Fahrenheit 451 for use in your classroom.
Tomek Grzesiak is the assistant director of the Barney Charter School Initiative.