What Burns at 451 Degrees Fahrenheit?
451 degrees Fahrenheit is 233 degrees Celsius – something burning at that temperature is hot enough to warm your hands by on a cold day.
It is the temperature that BOOKS CATCH FIRE according to American author Ray Bradbury who died in June 2012 at the age of 91.
Bradbury wrote his most famous book Fahrenheit 451 in 1953 – it is about the complete banning of books following the introduction of electronic screens – in this case interactive television screens – that work interactively like modern computers.
1953 was in the middle of the Cold War in America with authors, film-makers, journalists, and other artists being under great threat of being prosecuted for writing anything that might be considered ‘un-American’. It was also the time of the MAD Doctrine – the policy of the two super-powers, America and Russia, which stated that if one launched nuclear missiles against the other, the other would retaliate immediately, ensuring MUTUALLY ASSURED DESTRUCTION of both countries – and the rest of the human race.
The novel Fahrenheit 451 is set a little way in the future, at a time when all houses have been made fire-proof and the obsolete Fire Department has had its role changed to that of ridding the world of books – whenever books were found the fire engine would race out and the books would be burnt with flame throwers – such a clever idea to base a book on.
The problem with books was that they disturbed people too much by giving them a lot of different emotions – this was an anathema in this new society where people were kept ‘happy and contented’ through the use of drugs and soporific interactive TV programs.
Fiction is Not Safe – That is Why We Need It!
Fahrenheit 451 is a great example of why it is so important to read fiction – fiction is a great vehicle that helps us question our lives by immersing us in someone else’s life so we can view their life – and our life – from an external perspective – rather than just being caught up in all the day to day tasks that keep our minds focussed on ourselves rather than the bigger picture.
In 1953, Bradbury saw the direction of communication technology and its impact on our psyches. He took the notion of book burning from Germany in World War II, and the attack on authors during the Cold War, and gave us a novel that lives on beyond his death.
Just think, if he had written a non-fiction article or essay about his insights in 1953, he probably would have been prosecuted and jailed. And his ideas would have been lost to us who need them as much as the people in the 1950s – so we don’t all turn into zombies with our modern technology which seems to keep us apart as much as bring us together.
In 2007, Bradbury remarked that Fahrenheit 451 is about how television destroys interest in reading literature, which leads to a mistaken perception that knowledge is composed of factoids (ideas that resemble facts but are just pseudo-information and so devoid of true meaning).
The Movie – Fahrenheit 451
French film director François Truffaut wrote and directed a film adaptation of the novel in 1966.
Truffaut’s direction is inspired – he has used the medium of film to take the story to new heights. There are no printed words in the film except in the books that are burnt – even the film credits are spoken not printed on the screen.
Truffaut has added a touch of surrealism to the telling of the story, totally appropriate because the surrealists constantly address the theme of the way our minds are altered by technology. For example, Salvador Dali repeatedly used the motif of rubbery clocks to contrast the difference between how we experience time on an experiential level, and the way clocks measure time.
Watch The Movie
Whether you decide to read the book or not, I would strongly recommend that you watch the movie. Actually I suggest you watch it twice with a break of a day or two. And watch the interview with Ray Bradbury on the disk, and the interview about the making of the film – they are both excellent.
Studying English Literature In Senior High School
English Literature is a very sophisticated subject which teaches among other things:
- subtle comprehension skills
- deep comprehension skills
- complex analytical skills
- skills in logic and argument
- writing and communication skills
- the use of stories in reading and writing persuasively
These are all very important life skills in our complex technological culture where high-level communication skills are important in most jobs, let alone our personal lives.
- If your child has to choose between English Literature and what is often called English Communication, get him/her to choose Literature.
- If your child is struggling with English essays in Junior High School contact us so we can determine what is causing the problem.
- If your child doesn’t like reading novels at any age he/she probably has a basic reading or comprehension problem. This will impact on all subjects, even Maths so it is important to do something about it urgently. We teach literacy skills to people of all ages and at all educational levels. Contact us to find out more.
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