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Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury

Theme: Censorship and the value of literature
Grades: Grades 10-11


Summary:
In a violent and hedonistic future America, reading is banned, and firefighters burn books instead of fighting fires. One day fireman Guy Montag meets Clarisse McClellan, an exuberant teenager who spurs him to question the life he leads and the contents of the books he burns. He begins reading—to the consternation of his wife, Mildred, whose life is entirely given over to popping pills and watching wall-screen TV. Montag's boss, Captain Beatty, is well versed in literature but uses it only to argue his society's viewpoint: Reading is bad, he claims, because making people think makes them unhappy. Increasingly dissatisfied with his society, Montag conspires with Professor Faber, a fellow reader he met in the park. When their plot is discovered and Faber's life jeopardized, Montag kills Beatty and escapes the city. In the forest he joins a group of refugees who preserve books by memorizing them. After nuclear war destroys the city, Montag and the "Book People" head back there to help rebuild a better society.

Note: Fahrenheit 451 includes language that some readers may find objectionable. You may want to preview the novel before assigning it to students.


THEME OPENERS
  1. Discussion of Censorship.
    Have students agree on a definition of censorship and then discuss incidents of censorship with which they are familiar. Students might consider incidents in present-day America, elsewhere in the world, and in the past; they might focus solely on literature, or they might broaden the discussion to include films, TV, art, the Internet, etc.
  1. Interpretation of Quotation.
    Ray Bradbury once said, "After all, a computer is a book and a long-playing record is a book—they just have different shapes." What do you think he meant by this? Do you agree or disagree?
CROSSCURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
  1. The Other Point of View.
    Have students discuss in small groups why an apparently well-educated man such as Captain Beatty would support a society that burns books. Ask each group to select another character from the related readings. Have each prepare a dramatic dialogue in which Beatty and the other character discuss the value of literature in society.

  1. Storytelling festival.
    The oral transmission of literature that Montag encounters in Part 3 of Fahrenheit 451 in some ways brings literature full circle, since written literature had its origin in stories and poems passed down in the oral tradition. A group of students might find out more about the oral tradition in different cultures from around the world, past and present. They might then stage a storytelling festival in which they recite different stories or poems from different oral traditions.
RESEARCH ASSIGNMENTS
  1. Survey of Censorship.
    Have students research and report on censorship around the world. They can present their findings in a series of simulated interviews with authors and other creative talents, present and past, who have been the victim of censorship and with others who have opinions about censorship. Different groups could focus on one of the following aspects of censorship:

    • censorship before the 20th century (William Tyndale, John Peter Zenger, Thomas Bowdler)
    • 20th-century censorship around the world (James Joyce, Federico García Lorca, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Nadine Gordimer, Salman Rushdie) recent and current censorship in America (Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., J. D. Salinger, Mark Twain, The Diary of Anne Frank, judges who have ruled on censorship, parents accused of censorship who feel they have merely been trying to protect their children)
  1. Book Burning.
    Research the history of book burning. When and where may the practice have started? What famous incidents have involved book burning? Why were books burned instead of simply torn up or thrown away? Present your findings in an oral presentation or a multimedia report.