My life is contained in my smart phone, so when I pulled it out to check on my appointment schedule toward the end of one of my classes, I didn’t think that it could be a source of ridicule from my students.
“Miss, do you seriously have a case that looks like the book cover of ‘Fahrenheit 451′?” a student asked. We had read the book in class earlier in the year, so the fact that they recognized the cover on the back of my phone did not surprise me.
“Yes. Yes, I do,” I replied to the student’s question. Good-natured taunts of my nerdy, bookworm personality followed and, expecting them, I took it all in stride.
I had selected this particular, nerdy phone case because “Fahrenheit 451″ made a significant impact on me at a very young age, and continues to do so each and every time I read it. I was first given a copy of the book by my seventh grade Language Arts teacher. He recognized that I loved dystopian novels and needed a challenge with my reading, and he recommended the book to me. I started reading it that day and couldn’t put it down. I cheered on the main character, Guy Montag, through the pages as he fought against the laws of his society that dictated that each and every book found must be burned.
I was shocked to find out that a society could exist in which books were illegal, and I was amazed by Bradbury’s ability to imagine such a world. I was frightened by the possibility of halting social progress because people could not read. I was inspired by Montag’s ability to stand up for what he believed in at the end of the book, and his eventual devotion to the written word. I proceeded to try to read every book and short story Bradbury had ever written, and all were phenomenal, but none stuck with me like “Fahrenheit 451.”
Throughout the years since I first read “Fahrenheit 451,” I returned to it often. I took comfort in it, touching its pages every once in a while to be sure they hadn’t been consumed by the very flames it describes. Eventually, I came to realize that I learned two very important lessons from the book. First, I learned that I wanted to foster a love of reading in the next generation, leading me to become a teacher. Second, I learned that I wanted to be my own Guy Montag, fighting the good fight against oppressors everywhere, leading me to become an activist and a writer.
When I learned that we had copies of “Fahrenheit 451″ in our book room at school and that we were encouraged to teach it to our classes, I jumped at the opportunity. When I introduced the novel, I asked the students if they believed that books could change them. They were resistant to the idea, saying that books are fake, so they can’t possibly change a person. I then asked them what it would be like to live in a society where reading was illegal.
Some of the students were excited by the possibility of not having to read anything else for the rest of their lives. However, as we read the novel, they did, in fact, start to change. They realized that, without books, there is no learning and no social progress. They also started to realize that, without activism and standing up for what you believe in, the world will never progress. When I asked them at the end of the novel whether or not their answers to my first two questions had evolved, they all admitted that, at least this book changed them in some way, and that they would never want to live in a society without books.
I was deeply saddened to hear that Ray Bradbury had passed away at the age of 91 last Tuesday. His imagination and skill with the written word opened my eyes at a very young age, and I was able to pass that inspiration on to my students this year. Hopefully, thanks to Bradbury’s books, I will be able to do so for many years to come.
Photo Credit: California Cthulhu (Will Hart)