Sixty-eight years ago today, Ray Bradbury published what would become his most popular novel—Fahrenheit 451. The post-World War II novel takes place in a dystopia sometime in the year 2049. While this year was once deemed the “distance future,” 2049 is only twenty-eight years from today. Though the book was first a commentary on the world’s growing relationship with television, the book has also become popular (and occasionally banned) for its discussion on censorship and limitations of free speech.
Part of what inspired Bradbury to write this novel was the McCarthy Era that followed the First Red Scare in the United States. In a 1956 radio interview, Bradbury stated, “[t]oo many people were afraid of their shadows; there was a threat of book burning. Many of the books were being taken off the shelves at that time.” He attributed this to many people’s dependence on receiving their news from biased television as opposed to seeking out information from credible resources themselves.
Over the years, Fahrenheit 451 has been altered, censored, and banned in instances when adults thought it was too inappropriate for the average high school student who would be reading Bradbury’s work. The individuals who made these decisions clearly did not see the irony in doing such things to this book specifically. In addition, what Bradbury assumed would be a future in forty or fifty years became the reality during the controversial Trump Administration in America. Trump’s appointees sought to censor what scientists could tell the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, and he, himself, was known for voicing his distaste for journalists who questioned him during the White House press conferences.
The problem that Bradbury brings to the forefront in Fahrenheit 451—which also occurred more recently in America’s history—is that people are afraid to hear the truth. But keeping the truth from people doesn’t keep them safe. If anything, it puts them in more danger because it allows people to create myths and spread false information that has no foundation to back it up. It allows people to live in fantasy worlds where if they convince themselves of something for long enough, they believe that it might just come true.
But that’s not how life works. There is no one political party or news channel or author or religion. No one person dictates what we should think or how we should live our lives. And sometimes when we hold a mirror up to society, the reality can scare us. This is why books like Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and more recently, The Hate U Give are banned in some schools. Instead of hiding these books from future generations, we should continue to use these books as tools to encourage critical thinking of our society at large. Even better, these novels can be used to make society just a little bit better through voting and community initiatives.
To celebrate the publishing anniversary of Fahrenheit 451, here is a list of banned books you should most definitely read.
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