Young Adult Lit/Crit

March 26, 2008

Feeling the Heat

Filed under: Fahreneheit 451 — traverse02 @ 4:25 pm

I would like to start off discussion on Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury by relating a very interesting item of news that developed in the fall of 2004 in Buffalo, NY. I was an undergrad at SUNY Buffalo at the time, working for the student-run magazine, Generation, when the big story hit that Erie County would be suffering from a $130 million deficit in 2005. The county’s immediate reaction in proposing a budget? Cut funding for and close all of the county’s 52 libraries. You can read a more detailed account of what happened by clicking here. Fortunately, the green budget was passed. As a result, the county libraries reduced their services. Many libraries closed, and many librarians and other county workers lost their jobs. It was a moment that reminded me of some of the great sci-fi stories I had read over the years, especially Fahrenheit 451. Just think about it, the libraries being the first thing the county legislature decides to let go of when faced with a budget crisis. They might as well have proposed burning the books as a source of energy. The way I see it, taking away such a valuable community service as the public library system would have been the ultimate blow against the youth of that county. The Buffalo/Erie County area is a very poor area. The kids going through the school system don’t have the technology or many of the other resources that more privileged students have. Taking away the libraries would have been a terrible blow, not only to them, but to any card carrying library member.

I wish I could say that all is well for Erie County Libraries, but they suffered from significant cut-backs in staff and hours of operation. To this day, I find the whole thing ridiculous and worry about what the government will decide is good for us in the harsh times ahead.

So, my main question for everyone in discussing Fahrenheit 451 is this: Where does it all begin? Are we living in a time that is much different than the supposed future world that is depicted in the book? Think of high-definition flat screen TVs hung on the walls in homes across America, taking the place of artwork and family photos. Is that radically different from Mildred Montag’s world? And the reality television… What is it that Mildred watches on the walls? Seem familiar?

Bradbury was hitting very close to home back in 1953 when this novel was published, and I can’t help but feel that the world he envisioned has come to be a reality, to a certain extent. Granted, we aren’t burning books, but considering what happened in Buffalo and the likelihood of the same thing happening somewhere else, we educators should be unsettled. Imagine how difficult it would be to teach an English class without the aid of local libraries, especially in poorer areas where families can barely afford their children’s education let alone books. Will we teachers become like Guy Montag and Faber, holders of information that has been long forgotten/banned/burned? Will we ultimately go back to the beginning and become oral storytellers all over again, like in ancient days?

It seems possible. Maybe not to the extent represented in the book, but maybe. That’s what I dig most about sci-fi, is the maybe. It could get that bad, it could turn out for the better. Nevertheless, the issues addressed in Fahrenheit 451 are very real and help put modern society in some sort of perspective.

I look forward to hearing what you all think.
Until tomorrow,

Raph

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