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National Endowment for the Arts 




Fahrenheit 451 







Fahrenheit 451 



A nation 
deserves art 


:♦.. Museum^dLibrary 




The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting 
excellence in the arts — both new and established — bringing the arts to all Americans, 
and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an 
independent agency of the federal government, the Endowment is the nation's largest 
annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner 
cities, and military bases. 

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support 
for the nation's 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create 
strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute 
works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to 
sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support 
professional development. 

Arts Midwest connects people throughout the Midwest and the world to meaningful arts 
opportunities, sharing creativity, knowledge, and understanding across boundaries. Based 
in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state 
region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South 
Dakota, and Wisconsin. One of six nonprofit regional arts organizations in the United 
States, Arts Midwest's history spans more than 25 years. 

Additional support for The Big Read has also been provided by the W.K. Kellogg 

Published by 

National Endowment for the Arts 
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W 
Washington, DC 20506-0001 
(202) 682-5400 


Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. 1953. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 1996. 


David Kipen, NEA Director of Literature, National Reading Initiatives 

Sarah Bainter Cunningham, PhD, NEA Director of Arts Education 

Writers: Philip Burnham and Sarah Bainter Cunningham for the National Endowment for the 
Arts, with an introduction by Dana Gioia 

Series Editor: Molly Thomas-Hicks for the National Endowment for the Arts 

Graphic Design: Fletcher Design/Washington, DC 

Image Credits 

Cover Portrait: John Sherffius for The Big Read. Page iv: Fahrenheit 451 book cover used with 
permission of Del Ray/The Random House Ballantine Publishing Group; fire image by Stockbyte 
Gold/Getty Images; Page 1: Caricature of Dana Gioia by John Sherffius. Inside back cover: Ray 
Bradbury, Getty Images. 

July 2006 

Table of Contents 

Introduction 1 

Suggested Teaching Schedule 2 

Lesson One: Biography 4 

Lesson Two: Culture and History 5 

Lesson Three: Narrative and Point of View 6 

Lesson Four: Characters 7 

Lesson Five: Figurative Language 8 

Lesson Six: Symbols 9 

Lesson Seven: Character Development 10 

Lesson Eight: The Plot Unfolds 11 

Lesson Nine: Themes of the Novel 12 

Lesson Ten: What Makes a Book Great? 13 

Essay Topics 14 

Capstone Projects 15 

Handout One: The Fifties 16 

Handout Two: Science Fiction 17 

Handout Three: The Book of Ecclesiastes 18 

Teaching Resources 19 

NCTE Standards 20 

4 It was a pleasure to 
burn. It was a special 
pleasure to see things 
eaten, to see things 
blackened and changed, 

from Fahrenheit 451 

National Endowment for the Arts 


Welcome to The Big Read, a major initiative from the National 
Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary 
reading in American culture. The Big Read hopes to unite communities 
through great literature, as well as inspire students to become lifelong 

This Big Read Teacher's Guide contains ten lessons to lead you through 
Ray Bradbury's classic novel, Fahrenheit 451. Each lesson has four 
sections: a thematic focus, discussion activities, writing exercises, and 
homework assignments. In addition, we have provided suggested essay 
topics and capstone projects, as well as handouts with more background 
information about the novel, the historical period, and the author. All 
lessons dovetail with the state language arts standards required in the 
fiction genre. 

The Big Read teaching materials also include a CD. Packed with 
interviews, commentaries, and excerpts from the novel, The Big Read 
CD presents first-hand accounts of why Bradbury's novel remains so 
compelling five decades after its initial publication. Some of America's 
most celebrated writers, scholars, and actors have volunteered their 
time to make these Big Read CDs exciting additions to the classroom. 

Finally, The Big Read Reader's Guide deepens your exploration with 
interviews, booklists, timelines, and historical information. We hope 
this guide and syllabus allow you to have fun with your students while 
introducing them to the work of a great American author. 

From the NEA, we wish you an exciting and productive school year. 

Dana Gioia 

Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts 

National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ • | 

Day One 

FOCUS: Biography 

Activities: Listen to The Big Read CD, Track 
One (16:40). Read Reader's Guide essays. 
Write on Jimenez quote. Have students write 
about books that have influenced their lives. 

Homework: Handout One. Read to page 31 
in the novel * 

Day Two 

FOCUS: Culture and History 

Activities: Listen to The Big Read CD, 
Track Two (12: 10). Write about the 
depiction of technology in the novel. 

Homework: Finish Part One (pp. 32-68). 


Day Three 

FOCUS: Narrative and Point of View 

Activities: Explore Beatty's monologue. Write 
the story from Clarisse's point of view. 

Homework: Begin Part Two (pp. 69-91). 


Day Four 

FOCUS: Characters 

Activities: Explore Montag's relationship to 
the other characters. Write about 
the antagonist. 

Homework: Finish Part Two (pp. 91-110). 


Day Five 

FOCUS: Figurative Language 

Activities: Explore the meaning of the chapter 
titles. Write using techniques of image, simile, 
and metaphor. 

Homework: Begin Part Three (pp. 1 1 1-130). 
Read Handout Two. 

Page numbers refer to the Random House Publishing Group 1996 edition of Fahrenheit 451. 


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Day Six 

FOCUS: Symbols 

Activities: Review the novel to identify 
symbols. Explore the Mechanical Hound 
as a symbol. 

Homework: Continue with Part Three 
(pp. 131-145). 


Day Seven 

FOCUS: Character Development 

Activities: Focusing on the myth of Icarus, 
compare Montag's development to that of 
Icarus. Analyze Montag's new relationship 
to nature. 


Day Nine 

FOCUS: Themes of the Novel 

Activities: Develop an interpretation of 
the novel inspired by Faber's lecture about 
civilization and books. 

Homework: Work on essay. 


Day Ten 

FOCUS: What Makes a Book Great? 

Activities: Explore the qualities of a great 
novel and the voice of a generation. 
Examine qualities that make Bradbury's 
novel successful. Peer review of paper 
outlines or drafts. 

Homework: Finish Part Three (pp. 146-165). Homework: Student will finish their essays. 


Day Eight 

FOCUS: The Plot Unfolds 

Activities: Chart a timeline of the story. 
Develop a plot for the sequel. 

Homework: "Afterword" and "Coda" 
(pp. 167-179). Handout Three. 

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Examining an authors life can inform and expand the readers 
understanding of a novel. Biographical criticism is the practice of analyzing 
a literary work through the lens of an author's experience. In this lesson, 
explore the authors life to understand the novel more fully. 

Fahrenheit 451 is, in some ways, the author s tribute to the role that books 
and libraries have played in his life. After all, Bradbury wrote hundreds 
of works (novels, stories, screenplays, essays, and poems) with only a high 
school education, an inspiring desire to learn, and a worn out library card. 

Discussion Activities 

Listen to The Big Read CD, Track One (approximately 17 minutes). Students will 
take notes as they listen and will present the three most important points they 
learned from the CD. 

Copy Reader's Guide essays, "Ray Bradbury" (pp. 4-5), "Literature and 
Censorship" (pp. 6-7), and "Bradbury and His Other Works" (pp. 12-13). 
Divide the class into groups. Assign one essay to each group. After reading 
and discussing the essays, each group will present what they have learned from 
the essay. Ask students to add a creative twist to make their presentation 

The novel begins: "It was a pleasure to burn." Why does Bradbury start the 
novel in this way? Why might it be more pleasurable to burn books rather than 
read them? 

Writing Exercise 

Bradbury opens the novel with a quote from Juan Ramon Jimenez: "If they give 
you ruled paper, write the other way." Why did Bradbury select this statement, 
and what does it mean? Students should write two paragraphs on how this 
statement relates to what they have learned about Bradbury's life. 

Have students write one page about a book that opened new doors for them. If 
a book had a profound impact, explain why. If the book was pleasurable, explain 
in detail what kind of pleasure was experienced. Have students present their 
books, ideas, and conclusions to the class. 

U] Homework 

Read Handout One: "The Fifties." Read to page 31 of the novel. Consider the 
differences between Montag's life and Clarisse's life. 


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Culture and 

C Cultural and historical contexts give birth to the dilemmas and themes at 
the center of the novel. Studying these contexts and appreciating intricate 
details of the time and place help readers understand the motivations of 
the characters. 

Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953, the year the Korean War ended. 
The memory of Hitlers atrocities and World Wir II was less than a decade 
old. The Cold War, meanwhile, had hardened into a standoff. In 1952 
the United States tested a hydrogen bomb, and the Soviet Union followed 
suit a year later. A year after the publication of Fahrenheit 451, the Voice 
of America began broadcasting jazz worldwide. In New York, saxophonist 
Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie inspired audiences with 
their dynamic virtuosity. In 1956, the U.S. State Department sent Duke 
Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Louis Armstrong on tour in the hope that 
their performances would spread American democracy and alleviate the 
tensions of the Cold War. 

Discussion Activities 

Listen to The Big Read CD, Track Two (approximately 12 minutes). After 
listening to the first two tracks of the CD, your students should be able 
to identify several aspects of the novel that link to trends in politics, music, 
literature, and technology. Discuss NEA Jazz Master Paquito D'Rivera's 
comments that relate his youth in Cuba to the themes of the novel. 

Go to NEA's Jazz in the Schools Web site at Go to 
Lesson Three and play clips of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and 
Dave Brubeck. Ask students to take notes as they listen. See if they can identify 
patterns in the music. Team with your school's music specialist to further explore 
the music of the 1950s. 

Writing Exercise 

Montag's television includes headphones called seashells. The "wall to wall circuit' 
allows Mildred to enter the "play" and, therefore, the television programming. 
How does the technology within the novel compare to our current technology? 
Does technology improve the quality of life for Montag and his wife, Mildred? 
Why or why not? 

23 Homework 

Finish Part One (pp. 32-68). Ask students to consider why the narrator 
introduces us to Montag at this time of his life, when he encounters Clarisse 
and confronts Mildred's overdose. 

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Lesson Three 


and Point of 

The narrator tells the story with a specific perspective informed by his or 
her beliefs and experiences. Narrators can be major or minor characters, 
or exist outside the story altogether. The narrator weaves her or his point 
of view, including ignorance and bias, into telling the tale. A first-person 
narrator participates in the events of the novel, using "I." A distanced 
narrator, often not a character, is removed from the action of the story 
and uses the third-person (he, she, and they). The distanced narrator may 
be omniscient, able to read the minds of all the characters, or limited, 
describing only certain characters' thoughts and feelings. Ultimately, the 
type of narrator determines the point of view from which the story is told. 

Bradbury employs a third-person limited narrator in Fahrenheit 451. We 
know only Montags movements and thoughts. The narration follows 
Montag like a camera, and the reader is never allowed into the lives of other 
characters, except for what they say to him. This inevitably increases our 
sympathy for Montag. 

Discussion Activities 

Reread Captain Beatty's monologue (pp. 57-59). Discuss his view that school 
cultivates anti-intellectual sentiment (p. 58). Do students think it accurately 
depicts their school? Do books violate the idea that "everyone is made equal" 
(p. 58)? 

How might this story be narrated in the first-person from the point of view of 
a government official that believes burning books protects society? Have the 
class brainstorm the outline of a new version of Fahrenheit 451 told from this 

Writing Exercise 

Clarisse says: "People don't talk about anything ... nobody says anything 

different from anyone else My uncle says it was different once" (p. 31). Begin 

writing the novel in the third person using Clarisse as the central character. 

Have students write a letter to Captain Beatty responding to his ideas about 
education and his charge that "a book is a loaded gun" (p. 58). Do they agree 
or disagree with his ideas? In the letter, students should explain their own ideas 
about education and the value of books. 

U] Homework 

Begin Part Two (pp. 69-91). Five significant characters have been introduced: 
Montag, Clarisse, Mildred, Beatty, and Faber. Have students make lists of what 
motivates each of these characters. 


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f A 

Lesson Four 



The central character in a work of literature is called the protagonist. 
The protagonist usually initiates the main action of the story and often 
overcomes a Haw, such as weakness or ignorance, to achieve a new 
understanding by the works end. A protagonist who acts with great honor 
or courage may be called a hero. An antihero is a protagonist lacking 
these qualities. Instead of being dignified, brave, idealistic, or purposeful, 
the antihero may be cowardly, self-interested, or weak. The protagonists 
journey is enriched by encounters with characters who hold differing 
beliefs. One such character type, a foil, has traits that contrast with the 
protagonist's and highlight important features of the main character's 
personality. The most important foil, the antagonist, opposes 
the protagonist, barring or complicating his or her success. 

Captain Beatty, the fire chief, is a key foil and a historian of sorts. While 
Montag once followed Beatty's values, he now resists Beatty's commitment 
to burning books. Meanwhile, Faber represents a musty, academic link 
to the past. Clarisse McClellan, a teenager, longs for the romantic days of 
front porches and rocking chairs, complaining, "we never ask questions." 
Mildred, the model citizen, attempts suicide while living in a world 
enchanted by television. 

Discussion Activities 

Divide the class into groups to examine the role of foils in the novel. Assign each 
group a character: Mildred, Clarisse, Faber, or Beatty. Ask students to review the 
first ninety-one pages of the novel and look for occasions when this character 
brings out dramatic responses from Montag. How does the character lead 
Montag toward self-realization? How does Montag's relationship to the character 
change? Have students present their conclusions to the class, using specific 
textual support. 

Writing Exercise 

Students have examined many dimensions of the protagonist by exploring 
secondary characters. Have students write two pages on the character they 
believe to be the antagonist. Why is this character opposed to Montag? How 
does this character force him to reevaluate himself? Remind students to use 
passages from the text to support their conclusions. 

23 Homework 

Finish Part Two (pp. 91-110). Students will write one page explaining why 
Bradbury chose either "The Hearth and the Salamander" or "The Sieve and 
the Sand" as a section title. In their essays, students should explain what this 
title means. 

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Lesson Five 

Writers use figurative language such as imagery, similes, and metaphors 
to help the reader visualize and experience events and emotions in a story. 
Imagery — a word or phrase that refers to sensory experience (sight, sound, 
smell, touch, or taste) — helps create a physical experience for the reader and 
adds immediacy to literary language. 

Some figurative language asks us to stretch our imaginations, finding the 
likeness in seemingly unrelated things. Simile is a comparison of two 
things that initially seem quite different but are shown to have significant 
resemblance. Similes employ connective words, usually "like," "as," "than," 
or a verb such as "resembles." A metaphor is a statement that one thing is 
something else that, in a literal sense, it is not. By asserting that a thing is 
something else, a metaphor creates a close association that underscores an 
important similarity between these two things. 

Discussion Activities 

Begin the discussion by exploring student responses to the homework. Why did 
Bradbury use "The Hearth and the Salamander" and "The Sieve and the Sand" 
as section titles? How does this deepen your interpretation of these sections? 

What does figurative language ask of the reader? Does exploring a novel's 
figurative language train us in precisely the thinking that Beatty hates? Why or 
why not? 

Writing Exercise 

Have students write a paragraph about their favorite place using the techniques 
reviewed in class: imagery, simile, and metaphor. Vary this exercise by assigning 
three paragraphs, with each paragraph using a different technique. 

E3 Homework 

Read pp. 111-130. Read Handout Two. Note the descriptions of the Mechanical 
Hound. How is the Mechanical Hound a symbol of something else? Are there 
other images in the reading that could be symbols? 


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Symbols are persons, places, or things in a narrative that have significance 
beyond a literal understanding. The craft of storytelling depends on 
symbols to present ideas and point toward new meanings. Most frequently, 
a specific object will be used to refer to (or symbolize) a more abstract 
concept. The repeated appearance of an object suggests a non-literal, or 
figurative, meaning attached to the object. Symbols are often found in 
the books title, at the beginning and end of the story, within a profound 
action, or in the name or personality of a character. The life of a novel is 
perpetuated by generations of readers interpreting and reinterpreting the 
main symbols. By identifying and understanding symbols, readers can 
reveal new interpretations of the novel. 

Bradbury repeats and expands certain images. Front porches and rocking 
chairs symbolize the past, a time when people intermingled without the 
distraction of electronic screens. The Mechanical Hound, an especially 
important symbol, represents Montag's modern world and the deadly 
possibilities around every corner. 

Discussion Activities 

Bradbury writes, "The books leapt and danced like roasted birds, their wings 
ablaze with red and yellow feathers" (p. 117). Divide the class into groups that 
will examine twenty-page segments of the book, starting at the beginning. Each 
group will present the symbols that appear in its section. Students should be 
especially attentive to the way Bradbury uses fire and books both literally and 

Writing Exercise 

Reread the detailed description of the Hound (p. 24) and the battle (p. 120). 
Why might Montag's expression of affection to the Hound mark a turning point 
in his development? What role does affection play in this world? What might be 
the significance of Montag's final battle with the Hound? Finally, how might the 
Mechanical Hound be a symbol for Montag's world? 

Ask students to write about a conflict in our world. They should explain the 
details of this conflict. Have students then develop a symbol to capture its 

EJ Homework 

Read pp. 131-145. Ask students to think about what kind of transformation 
Montag has experienced and consider whether anyone else in the novel has 
undergone a similar journey. 

National Endowment for the Arts THE BIG READ • 9 

Lesson Seven 



Novels trace the development of characters who encounter a series of 
challenges. Most characters contain a complex balance of virtues and vices. 
Internal and external forces require characters to question themselves, 
overcome fears, or reconsider dreams. The protagonist may undergo 
profound change. A close study of character development maps, in each 
character, the evolution of motivation, personality, and belief. The tension 
between a character's strengths and weaknesses keeps the reader guessing 
about what might happen next and the protagonist's eventual success 
or failure. 

Montag questions whether his profession is justified and whether the values 
he has held so dear — burning books and all it implies — are wrong. Mrs. 
Hudson forces Montag to question whether his life might be fundamentally 
improved by reading. Is he missing something invaluable? He then 
repudiates his profession. He does so partly through the intercession of 
Clarisse and Faber, messengers from a world he barely understands. The 
narrator explains, "Even now he could feel the start of the long journey, 
the leave-taking, the going-away from the self he had been" (p. 103). By 
the end of the novel, Montag has been profoundly changed. As a three- 
dimensional character, Montag has an inner and an outer life unlike the 
two-dimensional portraits of other characters. 

Discussion Activities 

In Part Three, Beatty explains "Old Montag wanted to fly near the sun and now 
that he's burnt his damn wings, he wonders why. Didn't I hint enough when I 
sent the Hound around your place?" (p. 113). Beatty refers to the myth of Icarus, 
told in Ovid's first-century poem The Metamorphoses. A version can be found at Ask students why Bradbury compares Montag 
to Icarus. How does this shed light on Montag's development? 

Writing Exercise 

As Montag escapes the city and enters the silences of the natural world, he 
looks forward to the time "needed to think all the things that must be thought" 
(p. 143). He discovers "He was not empty. There was more than enough here 
to fill him" (p. 144). How has the silence and emptiness of nature proved fulfilling 
compared to his former life? How have books led to these realizations? 

23 Homework 

Finish Part Three (pp. 146-165). Ask students to begin to think about how 
Bradbury has constructed the plot to reach this dramatic conclusion. Students 
should come to class ready to discuss the two most important turning points in 
the novel. 

I * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 


The Plot 

The author crafts a plot structure to create expectations, increase suspense, 
and develop characters. The pacing of events can make a novel either 
predictable or riveting. Foreshadowing and flashbacks allow the author to 
defy the constraints of time. Sometimes an author can confound a simple 
plot by telling stories within stories. In a conventional work of fiction, the 
peak of the story's conflict — the climax — is followed by the resolution, or 
denouement, in which the effects of that climactic action are presented. 

Ray Bradbury made choices about how to structure and pace events to 
explore how bookbuming can erode the human imagination. In this lesson, 
map the events of the story to assess the artistry of storytelling. Some of the 
turning points in the novel include Mrs. Hudson's willingness to die for 
books, Montag's confrontation with his wife's friends, Montag's murder 
of Captain Beatty, and Montag's creative escape from the Mechanical 
Hound. Punctuated by an audible refrain of flying jets as well as constant 
surveillance, Bradbury amplifies Montag's unease and foreshadows war. 
Montag, like a rat in a maze, turns corner after corner until he finds 
an exit. 

Discussion Activities 

In small groups, students will map a timeline that depicts the development of the 
story. This map includes the most significant turning points but also examines the 
lesser events that build tension. As students develop their timelines, they should 
define the beginning, middle, and end of the novel. Groups should present their 
work to the class. 

Have students imagine they are making a movie of Fahrenheit 451. Tell them they 
have to cut certain scenes because of limited running time. Divide the class into 
groups and have each suggest two scenes that could be dropped. How does 
cutting certain scenes change the story? 

Writing Exercise 

Ask students to imagine a sequel to Fahrenheit 451. Have them outline the sequel. 
What would the beginning, middle, and end of the sequel look like? Then write 
the opening paragraphs to the sequel, creating a beginning that immediately 
plunges the reader into the story. 

EJ Homework 

Read the 'Afterword" and the "Coda" (pp. 167-179). Read Handout Three. 
Although we have focused on Montag as the central character, could books be 
the heroes of the novel? 

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Lesson Nine 


Themes of 
the Novel 

Themes are the central, recurring subjects of a novel. As characters grapple 
with circumstances such as racism, class, or unrequited love, profound 
questions will arise in the reader's mind about human life, social pressures, 
and societal expectations. Classic themes include intellectual freedom versus 
censorship, the relationship between ones personal moral code and larger 
political justice, and spiritual faith versus rational considerations. A novel 
often reconsiders these age-old debates by presenting them in new contexts 
or from new points of view. 

As one reads Fahrenheit 45 L certain themes stand out: the repression of 
free thought through censorship, a proper education that values books, 
the loss of culture and history, the threat that new technology may deaden 
human experience, the constant demand to satisfy immediate visual and 
sensory appetites, the value of authentic human interaction, and the value of 
the natural world. For Bradbury, our choice to use, misuse, or discard books 
relates to all these themes. 

Discussion Activities and Writing Exercise 

Use the following questions to stimulate discussion or provide writing exercises. 
Have students link Faber's comments on books (pp. 80-89) to other passages 
that reflect on the same theme. 


"We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren't happy. Something's 
missing" (p. 82). How might Bradbury be defining happiness in Fahrenheit 451? 
Does he present a new idea of happiness or preserve an older idea? 


"[Books] stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us" 
(p. 83). How do books draw together ideas and information so as to capture 
details that might otherwise be missed? 

Freedom of Thought 

"The televisor . . . tells you what to think and blasts it in" (p. 84). Members of this 
world have "plenty off-hours" but do they have "time to think"? What kind of 
thinking do Faber and Bradbury prefer? Will it initially make life more difficult? 


"Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading 
of its own accord" (p. 87). What kind of education is necessary to create citizens 
who recognize "quality of information," take "leisure to digest it," and "carry out 
actions based on what we learn from the first two" (p. 84)? How might this relate 
to our current educational system? 

Ul Homework 

Students should begin working on their essays. See the essay topics at the end of 
this guide. For additional questions, see the Reader's Guide Discussion Questions 
(pp. 14-15). Students will turn in outlines and rough drafts at the next class. 

12 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 

Lesson Ten 


What Make 
a Book Great? 


Great stories articulate and explore the mysteries of our daily lives in the 
larger context of the human struggle. The writers voice, style, and use of 
language inform the plot, characters, and themes. By creating opportunities 
to learn, imagine, and reflect, a great novel is a work of art that affects 
many generations of readers, changes lives, challenges assumptions, and 
breaks new ground. 

Discussion Activities 

Ask students to make a list of the characteristics of a great book. Put these 
on the board. What elevates a novel to greatness? Then ask them to discuss, 
within groups, other books that include some of the same characteristics. Which 
characteristics can be found in Fahrenheit 451? 

A great writer can be the voice of a generation. What kind of voice does 
Bradbury provide through Montag? What does this voice tell us about the 
concerns and dreams of his generation? 

Writing Exercise 

Ask students the following questions: If you were the voice of your generation, 
what would be your most important message? Why might you choose to convey 
this in a novel rather than a speech or an essay? What story would you tell to get 
your point across? 

Have students work on their essays in class. Be available to assist with outlines, 
drafts and arguments. Have them partner with another student to edit outlines 
and rough drafts. For this editing, provide students with a list of things they 
should look for in a well-written essay. 

EJ Homework 

Students should finish their essays. Celebrate by participating in a Big Read 
community event. 

National Endowment for the Arts 


The discussion activities and writing exercises in this guide provide you with possible essay topics, 
as do the Discussion Questions in the Reader's Guide. Advanced students can come up with 
their own essay topics, as long as they are specific and compelling. Other ideas for essays are 
provided here. 

For essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis about the novel. This statement or 
thesis should be focused, with clear reasons supporting its conclusion. The thesis and supporting 
reasons should be backed by references to the text. 

1. Explain why Bradbury chose Ecclesiastes to 
be the material that Montag would memorize. 
How does this expand on other themes within 
the novel? How might this be the right guide 
for Montag's further development? Refer to 
Handout Three as well as additional research 
on Ecclesiastes. 

2. Beatty's dying words are quoted from 
Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "There is no terror, 
Cassius, in your threats, for I am arm'd so 
strong in honesty that they pass me in an idle 
wind, which I respect not!" (p. 119) Beatty 
mocks Montag as a "second hand litterateur." 
Explain why Bradbury would portray the fire 
captain as a literary expert. Why has Bradbury 
chosen these final words for Beatty? 

3. Consider the symbolism of fire in the novel. 
Explore passages where fire significantly 
factors into the story. How does Montag's 
understanding of fire (and/or burning) change 
throughout the novel? At the end of the novel 
Granger looks at the fire and says "phoenix" 
(p. 163). How does fire capture both 
destruction and renewal? 

4. Mildred's leisure makes her suicidal. Faber 
argues for the leisure of digesting information. 
Beatty mocks how people "superorganize 
super-super sports." What is wrong with the 
concept of leisure in Montag's world? Does 
Bradbury succeed in establishing a new idea 
of leisure by the end of the novel? Why or 
why not? 

5. Does Montag kill Beatty out of self-defense 
or to preserve something lost? Has Montag 
avenged the deaths of Mrs. Hudson and 
Clarisse? Can Montag justify murder in 
defense of books? Finally, do the extreme 
circumstances of Montag's world justify lawless 
behavior to preserve the freedom to read? 

6. As noted in the Reader's Guide, Bradbury has 
suggested the story turns on the input from a 
teenager, Clarisse. Explore Clarisse's character 
in detail, explaining her motivations and the 
values she represents. Why must Clarisse be 
killed or silenced? 

7. Near the novel's end, Granger tells Montag 
that "the most important single thing we had 
to pound into ourselves is that we were not 
important" (p. 153). What does he mean? 
How does Granger's statement reflect a major 
theme of the novel? 

14 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 

apstone r rejects 

Teachers may consider the ways in which these activities may be linked to other Big Read 
community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local library, a student assembly, 
or a bookstore. 

1. Public Presentations: Have students memorize 
a paragraph of Bradbury's novel and recite 
these at a public presentation. Have them 
organize a Big Read (or Big Recite) night in 
which they present each piece to a public 
audience. Ask each one to explain why 
these passages are valuable. Discuss how the 
experience of memorizing affected his or her 
understanding of the material. 

2. Parent's Night: Have students re-enact several 
different scenes from the novel as might be 
done in a movie version. Ask them to write 
down their lines in a script, but only in order 
to memorize them. Before each presentation, 
have a narrator explain the context of the 
scene. After each, have a commentator explain 
why the scene was chosen. 

3. Ask students to create their own science 
fiction scene. Have them observe a routine, 
habit, or technological device that seems 
commonplace. Then have them brainstorm a 
future where this routine, habit, or device has 
gained exaggerated prominence. What does 
this world look like? Have students produce 
the scene at a local bookstore, library, or Big 
Read partner organization. 

4. Ask students to design uniforms for Montag's 
fire department. Have them create a logo 
for the fire department and the Salamander. 
Sketches and drawings might be displayed 

at a Big Read partner institution. Ambitious 
students might actually sew their designs or 
create fabric models. 

5. Team with your school's visual arts 
specialists and ask students to illustrate the 
most explosive, vibrant image in the story. 
Students should select the image that was 
most profound for them. They should 
produce a sketch, to be presented and 
reviewed in class discussion, which provides 
an outline for a larger piece of visual art. 
Allow students to work two-dimensionally 
or three-dimensionally. 

National Endowment for the Arts 



The Fifti 

As much as Fahrenheit 451 is about a time in the 
not-too-distant future, Ray Bradbury's novel is 
anchored in the 1950s. Mildred Montag sits like 
a zombie in front of a telescreen. The sound of jet 
fighters crosses the sky in preparation for war. A 
neighborhood sits full of cookie-cutter houses and 
the complacent souls who live in them. All of these 
would have been familiar scenes to a writer at work 
in 1953. 

The era following World War II in the United 
States was known for its productivity, its affluence, 
and its social conformity. The economy was strong. 
The technology of television, air travel, and the 
transistor brought the future to the front stoop. 
The neighborhood Montag lives in probably looks 
a lot like Levittown, the famous low-cost housing 
developments of the age that ushered in the rise 
of suburbia. 

Although the 1950s are remembered as a decade 
of peace and prosperity, they were anything 
but. The Korean War, which ended in the year 
that Fahrenheit 451 was published, saw tens of 
thousands of American deaths. The larger Cold 
War that lingered was a source of constant anxiety. 
In the new atomic age, everyone was learning that 
the world could be destroyed with the push of a 
button, a fate Bradbury more than hints at in 
his novel. 

Not only were governments endowed with 
nuclear weapons, they exercised the power to 
persecute suspected enemies closer to home. The 
congressional House Committee on Un-American 
Activities began investigating suspected espionage 
in 1946, and within a few years Senator Joseph 
McCarthy of Wisconsin was charging, without 
evidence, that dozens of government officials 
were Communist Party members. Meanwhile, 
memories of Nazi book burnings and Soviet 
censorship were still fresh in people's minds. 

As a result, censorship was alive and well in the 
media. Communists were assailed in the press. 
Comic books were condemned as subversive by 
parents and educators. Images of the "organization 
man" and the "lonely crowd" reflected changes in 
the American spirit. 

For all their prosperity and rising expectations, the 
1950s were a decade of atomic tests and regional 
wars; racial segregation; government censorship 
and persecution; subtly enforced social orthodoxy; 
and building angst. The social and psychological 
problems of the era are watchfully scrutinized in 
Fahrenheit 451, a book that examines an intolerant 
society that seems oddly un-American in its 
penchant for censorship and governmental control. 


National Endowment for the Arts 


Science Fiction 

Extremely prevalent in film and literature today, 
science fiction has only established itself as a genre 
in the last ISO years. Despite its recent rise to fame, 
it has very old roots in mythical and philosophical 
literature. Epic poems like Homers Odyssey, or 
hooks like Plato's The Republic and Utopia by 
Thomas More, have elements of the fantastic 
anticipating the popularity of science fiction writing 
in the twentieth century. 

Nineteenth-century writers such as Edgar Allan 
Poe {The Raven) and Mary Shelley {Frankenstein) 
pioneered the genre of fantasy literature in the 
emerging industrial world. But it was not until late 
in the nineteenth century that H.G. Wells, Jules 
Verne, and Edgar Rice Burroughs began penning 
scientific romances that envisioned interplanetary 
travel and alien invasions. These writers had an 
extraordinary influence on the coming golden age 
of science fiction. 

Inspired by Hugo Gernsbacks pulp magazine 
Amazing Stories, founded in 1926, science 
fiction spread throughout the United States and 
England. It moved from cheap magazines devoted 
to futuristic stories to a legitimate branch of 
literature with the plot, characters, and themes of 
major novels. In so doing, a whole generation of 
visionaries — among them Robert Heinlein, Isaac 
Asimov, and Ray Bradbury — was introduced to a 
world increasingly fascinated by the technology of 
the new atomic age. 

Future visions of technology and science are 
essential to these stories. Common subjects have 
come to include robotics, aliens, time travel, 
biological experiments, and apocalyptic disaster. 
Although a branch of fantasy, science fiction 
often makes philosophical statements about our 
current existence. 

Over time, science fiction has presented not only 
some of the greatest stories in modern literature 
but has foreseen many developments that define 
the contemporary world. Writers such as George 
Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Kurt Vonnegut, and 
Michael Crichton have, like Bradbury, practiced 
social criticism and sometimes prophecy that has 
made them favorites around the world. 

Science fiction has come to embrace a wide diversity 
of writers and approaches. C.S. Lewis used the 
genre as a medium for religious allegory. In The 
Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood imagines 
a dangerous future world from a feminist point 
of view. And writers like Samuel R. Delany and 
Octavia Butler have created African American 
characters within a genre that has come a long way 
since Frankenstein. 

National Endowment for the Arts 



The Book of Ecclesiastes 

When Guy Montag meets Granger, he is 
introduced to a community in which each member 
is dedicated to learning a book by heart. Their 
purpose is to commit whole texts to memory and 
pass them down to future generations, surviving 
the "Dark Age" of atomic war and government 

Montag chooses the book of Ecclesiastes, a text 
from the biblical Old Testament probably written 
about the third century BC. Narrated by the 
"Teacher" who is traditionally considered to be 
King Solomon, Ecclesiastes is a wonderfully diverse 
collection of advice on matters including good and 
evil, temptation and vice, love and hate, vanity, and 
wisdom. Along with the Old Testament books of 
Job and Proverbs, Ecclesiastes is an essential part of 
the wisdom literature of early Jewish philosophy. 

A philosophical essay rather than a narrative or 
history, Ecclesiastes offers ambiguous guidance 
about the nature of the world. Its tone changes 
throughout; it is merciful, skeptical, loving, cynical, 
sorrowful, and ecstatic. As one of its most famous 
passages says, there is "a time to rend and a time to 
sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a 
time to love and a time to hate" (3:7-8). Ecclesiastes 
does not provide any easy answers. 

Ultimately, this very short book is an endorsement 
of concrete human experience rather than dogmatic 
abstraction. The Teacher asserts that one should 
experience life as fully as possible, even if death and 
God's judgment are final. The use of simple and 
concrete imagery is a call to experience all one can 
while learning that the difference between good 
and evil is not to be fully divined by mere mortals. 

The prominent themes of wisdom and mercy in 
Ecclesiastes make the book a fitting choice for 
Montag to learn. This is not a text that lends itself 
to systematic answers. It is, in a sense, a book to 
stand for all books, which in their entirety give a 
loud chorus of voices, the voices that the firemen 
in Fahrenheit 451 wanted to extinguish in the 
first place. 

I 8 ' THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 

Printed Resources 

Aggelis, Steven L, ed. Conversations with Ray Bradbury. 
Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004. 

Bloom, Harold, ed. Ray Bradbury. Philadelphia: Chelsea 
House Publishers, 2000. 

de Koster. Katie, ed. Readings on Fahrenheit 451. 
San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2000. 

Eller, Jonathan, and William Touponce. Ray Bradbury: The 
Life of Fiction. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2004. 

Mengeling, Marvin. Red Planet, Flaming Phoenix, Green Town: 
Some Early Bradbury Revisited. Bloomington: 1st Books 
Library, 2002. 

Re id, Robin Anne. Ray Bradbury: A Critical Companion. 
Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. 

Weist, Jerry. Bradbury: An Illustrated Life: A Journey to Far 
Metaphor. New York: William Morrow, 2002. 

Weller, Sam. The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray 
Bradbury. New York: William Morrow, 2005. 

Web sites 

This is the official web site on Bradbury, maintained by 

HarperCollins publishers. 

This is a privately maintained site with considerable 

information on Bradbury and his writing career. 

This is a private site with valuable, but not quite up-to- 
date, bibliographies. 

National Endowment for the Arts 



CTE Standards 

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Standards" 

6. Students apply knowledge of language 
structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling 
and punctuation), media techniques, figurative 
language, and genre to create, critique, and 
discuss print and non-print texts. 

7. Students conduct research on issues and 
interests by generating ideas and questions, and 
by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and 
synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., 
print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to 
communicate their discoveries in ways that suit 
their purpose and audience. 

8. Students use a variety of technological and 
information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, 
computer networks, video) to gather and 
synthesize information and to create and 
communicate knowledge. 

9. Students develop an understanding of and 
respect for diversity in language use, patterns, 
and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, 
geographic regions, and social roles. 

1 0. Students whose first language is not English 
make use of their first language to develop 
competency in the English language arts and to 
develop understanding of content across the 

11. Students participate as knowledgeable, 
reflective, creative, and critical members of a 
variety of literary communities. 

12. Students use spoken, written, and visual 
language to accomplish their own purposes 
(e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and 
the exchange of information). 

* This guide was developed with NCTE Standards and State Language Arts Standards in mind. Use these standards to guide and 
develop your application of the curriculum. 

1 . Students read a wide range of print and 
non-print texts to build an understanding of 
texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of 
the United States and the world; to acquire 
new information; to respond to the needs 
and demands of society and the workplace; 
and for personal fulfillment. Among these 
texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and 
contemporary works. 

2. Students read a wide range of literature from 
many periods in many genres to build an 
understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., 
philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human 

3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to 
comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate 
texts. They draw on their prior experience, 
their interactions with other readers and 
writers, their knowledge of word meaning 

and of other texts, their word identification 
strategies, and their understanding of textual 
features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, 
sentence structure, context, graphics). 

4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, 
and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, 
vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a 
variety of audiences and for different purposes. 

5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as 
they write and use different writing process 
elements appropriately to communicate with 
different audiences for a variety of purposes. 

20 'THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 


'Books bombarded his shoulders, his 
arms, his upturned face. A book lit, 
almost obediently, like a white pigeon, 
in his hands, wings fluttering. In the 
dim, wavering light, a page hung open 
and it was like a snowy feather, the 
words delicately painted thereon. In all 
the rush and fervor, Montag had only 
an instant to read a line, but it blazed 
in his mind for the next minute as if 
stamped there with fiery steel." 

from Fahrenheit 451 

The Big Read is an initiative of the National 
Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading 
to the center of American culture. The NEA presents 
The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of 
Museum and Library Services and in cooperation 
with Arts Midwest. 

A great nation deserves great art. 

:-.i .. INSTITUTE ol ., 

•;.\. MuseurrhndLibrary