Fahrenheit 451—A Cultural Critique

A Cultural Critique

Background: As Neil Gaiman tells us in his introduction to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, “This is a book of warning” (xi). Bradbury’s science fiction work, while speculative fiction is just as much about the time and place in which he was living:

[It] takes an element of life today, something clear and obvious and normally something troubling, and asks what would happen if that thing, that one thing, became bigger, became all-pervasive, changed the way we thought and behaved. (Gaiman xi-xii)

And writing in the era following WWII, within the looming uncertainty of the Cold War, and the political dogma of McCarthy era censorship, Bradbury’s novel cannot help but be influenced by these external forces. And they also hint at the other more banal, but no less insidious, issues of technology, media, and the tensions between the idyllic past and progress. And even Bradbury himself, writing about Fahrenheit 451 years later remarks, “Only recently, glancing at the novel, I realized that Montag is named after a paper manufacturing company. And Faber, of course, is a maker of pencils! What a sly thing my subconscious was, to name them thus. . . . And not tell me!” (205). While the author has an intention and a purpose, he is also a product of his life and times, and we are privileged to see his work through the lens of history, to make greater sense of the true “warning” he is making, and to apply it to our own time.

Task: Write a 5-6 page argumentative essay on ONE of the following, using a historical critique (including biographical and cultural information) to show how Bradbury is reacting to his time period, and what central argument or “warning” he is creating for the society of his time, and even for us, the readers of the future. Hint: focus on one main criticism or warning rather than trying to cover ALL the areas of society he addresses.

Explore any single contrast, including but not limited to light vs. dark, fire vs. water, isolation vs. community, or nature vs. technology, and show how this contrast helps to shape Bradbury’s social criticism.

Choose one character within the novel and trace his or her development and transformation throughout the novel. What does this character represent? How does he/she react to the dystopia inhabited? How does he or she offer a particular warning or statement about society?

Choose a central image, symbol, or motif within the work, including but not limited to insects and animals, martyrs, books, fire, technology, war, censorship, paranoia, and family, and trace this throughout the work to show what argument emerges about this image/symbol, but also what deeper critique of society it represents.

Examine the dominant allusions OR ironies within the work, and discuss the individual insights they offer into the text and the culture and the argument they present as a whole.

Bradbury’s society may be considered an “egalitarian nightmare,” in its attempts to equalize by pacifying and restricting the population. Explore the ways he criticizes these attempts and argue for what improved society he offers in its place.

Requirements: A strong essay will:

Open with a well-developed introduction which introduces the novel, the themes and the particular critique you are making.

Provide a focused thesis statement that clearly addresses the chosen prompt and states your focused argument including how or why this is revealed.

Provide a coherent argument through numerous related points which each strengthen your main claim.

Use clear topic sentences and PIE paragraphs.

Provide and correctly introduce, integrate and cite textual evidence, in the form of quotes and detailed paraphrasing, into your writing to support your points.

Use close-reading to analyze the text and explain your inferences.

Be well-organized to lead your reader and build your argument.

Use both the primary source (the novel) and the secondary sources (the outside criticism) to support your interpretation or to establish a connection between the text and the historical/cultural view.

Conclude by offering new insight into the reading or issues for your reader.

Use MLA format and in-text citation.

Provide a Works Cited page for every source you quote, paraphrase or reference.

Provide a Cover Letter discussing your strengths and areas for improvement.