This is the second of three works I'm annotating in preparation for taking over the frosh honors classes for the next school year. Of the three (Animal Farm and Othello being the other two), this is one I haven't read before.
21) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Bradbury foretells a dystopic future where books are outlawed because they make people think too much, and thinking can lead to unhappiness. As for what amounts to happiness, people are both out of control (in the case of crazy teenagers running people over for the sake of something to do) and totally in the dark (as in the case of Montag's wife, Mildred, and her clueless friends). Without the influence of literature, people have lost the ability to ask why and with that all sense of meaning in life.
The story also comes across as muddled in parts, which I'm hoping can be a topic for discussion in class. For what's been described to me as a junior high book, I was surprised at how challenging it came across in the beginning. Too much of the world feels poorly realized in Bradbury's overly flowery diction. The book is at odds with itself: it at once attempts to be very pointedly describing a world without literature and showing the consequences of that idea in practice but also tries to capture the world using the influence of the same.
Those two ideas seem like they would go well together but it feels jarring. Seeing more of the home life of Montag prior to his awakening by Clarisse (GET IT!?) would have helped to make the setting more established. In fact, my edition contains an essay where Bradbury describes two scenes that he included in a play adaptation that would have gone a long way towards, if not fixing my problems, at least addressing them. Reading those last few pages felt like watching a few really great deleted scenes from a movie I sort of liked. He says that he had the chance to include them in a later, revised edition but chose not to because Bradbury felt like changing the book after people have read it betrays the message of the book. I'm not sure where I stand on that idea but I think I agree with him, as art no longer belongs to the artist once other people get their hands on it since it's open to interpretation and analysis. However, it should make for some interesting discussion come class time.