This week I wrapped up a six week unit on Fahrenheit 451 with my ninth grade students. Leading up to this unit every year I question whether I will be able to capture the interest of my students with the story. This novel is being categorized in the Classic Science Fiction genre these days which tends not to be the kind of stories students pick to read on their own. Not because they don’t enjoy it, but because it seems intimidating to them. Throw the word “Classic” in front of any title and you’ve lost many of my regular education students.
Each year upon the completion of the book, however, I am overwhelmed by the number of students who ask about recommendations of other books by Bradbury. Somewhere in the journey of complicated themes, verbose vocabulary, and metaphorical language the students begin to fall in love.
I do not have these fears prior to reading because I don’t think the students will be able to read his books, but I think I fear that they may shut down before Bradbury has a chance to WOW them with his art. I enjoy reading the many works of Bradbury for several reasons. Below are five reasons to grab a Ray Bradbury novel, screenplay, short story, or essay and allow yourself to fall in love as well.
- Ray Bradbury is timeless. Although most of his works were done in the early 1950s-mid 1970s the stories are still relevant to popular culture today. Nuclear war, extraterrestrial life, and time travel are all common ideas in his writing. Today, if you flip through the channels of prime-time television or Netflix you will find an abundance of shows on similar topics. Bradbury nailed popular culture fifty years ago. Throughout the reading of Fahrenheit 451 I had to continually remind the students that the book was written in 1953 long before Bluetooth, automatic cars, and cell phones. It’s actually quite surreal how well Bradbury predicted technologies of the future.
- Ray Bradbury is honest. I’ve read countless articles about how Bradbury was inspired to write based on his own fears. Growing up during the height of the Cold War caused Bradbury to voice some of his own fears and observations in the major themes of his books.
- Ray Bradbury challenges the norms of society. Along the same lines of honesty, Bradbury looked at society through a critical lens and made predictions and assumptions about the direction it was headed. He exposed the dangers of censorship and blindly following the rules of society. He aimed at provoking individuality and questioning of the world. “She didn’t want to know how a thing was done, but why.” (Fahrenheit 451)
- Ray Bradbury causes us to say “what if…?” As I stated above Ray Bradbury was writing during the height of the Cold War. Living in this time period caused many people to ask the question, “what if…?” of the future for mankind. Today we are faced with similar questions for our world. What if nuclear war were to break out? What if there really is water and possibility of life on Mars? What if we don’t stand up for our rights? What if the government has too much control? What if technology takes over our lives? Bradbury challenges his readers to be critical of the world around them and to dare to dream about how to solve the problems that we face in our age.
- Ray Bradbury uses beautiful language filled with metaphors and figurative language. One thing I love about re-reading several works of Bradbury’s each year is that every time I read his writing something new stands out to me. Most recently I loved the way that at the end of Fahrenheit 451 that Bradbury compares society to a phoenix, a mythical creature which burns itself up only to rebirth itself from the ashes. As Montag stands outside of Chicago and watches it go up in flames, Granger, his new mentor, explains that the city is like a phoenix. It may be destroyed, but it was their duty to return to the city and help it to rebuild spreading the knowledge from the books that they possessed and had become.
photo credit: http://www.openculture.com/2014/05/ray-bradbury-on-zen-and-the-art-of-writing-1973.html