Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to present this blog post by Eye On Education Editor Lauren Beebe.
The legacy of modern science fiction and fantasy giant Ray Bradbury is enormous and multifaceted. Taught in school, his work can be interpreted through the lenses of social oppression, colonization, censorship, dystopianism, and so on. But outside academia, readers are just as likely to respond to his writings with simple excitement: “Wow, cool!”
In the novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Bradbury envisioned a futuristic society in which books are illegal and firemen are charged with burning them. The book, which was itself banned during the McCarthy era, is an example of how a work of art can take on meaning and political significance beyond what was intended by its author.
Although it has long been used as a “poster child” for anti-censorship, in Bradbury’s own words, “Fahrenheit is not about censorship.” In fact, Bradbury was optimistically dismissive of book-banning, suggesting that school librarians should just keep putting the books back on the shelves and play dumb if questioned by the authorities: “You do the job. You’re the librarian. You’re the teacher. Stand firm and you’ll win.”
No matter what authors intend to express, there is always potential for gross misunderstanding when they submit their work to the public. Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken,” is often taught as an example of how the tiniest decisions can forever shape the course of one's life. This interpretation glorifies the power of the individual who “forges his own path.” However, Frost wrote the poem as a way of gently teasing those who believe just that, specifically a friend of his, “a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn't go the other.”
Most of us recognize this famous quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “This above all; to thine own self be true.” When this inspirational line is used on bumper stickers and in email signatures, it is thought to reflect the importance of honesty, self-acceptance, and letting your heart guide you in all things. However, in the context of the play, this line—along with all of Polonius’s bombastic advice to his son—falls flat as one of many contradictory clichés.
Author intentions and the subtle meanings of a text do not always translate well. The significance of famous works, honored generation after generation, is in the eyes of their beholders—something for both writers, readers, and teachers to keep in mind.
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