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Letters About Literature National Winners 2013

National Winner, Level 2: Shannon Chinn

Dear Ray Bradbury,

Once upon a timeā€¦these words, so well known in my world, put in every pop culture icon of television, movies, and literature, are words so forbidden in the world you created, put in the flames of Fahrenheit 451, in a book that made me realize your world, so broken and distorted that it can’t possibly become our own, so closely mirrors the lifestyle we are creating for ourselves.  Fahrenheit 451 truly has changed my view of the world I live in.

I love to read.  Books are a part of my life I never want to let go.  Your book, Fahrenheit 451 made me realize how great of a possibility we have of books being banned and gone for good.  In your depiction of future America, books are burned by firemen at the temperature of 451 degrees Fahrenheit.  The thought of the works of my favorite authors being destroyed and forgotten, regarded as dangerous, touched me to the core.  It is a future I do not even want to consider, but yet, we are already seeing resemblances between our present and your future.  More and more you see less and less people picking up a book and instead picking up iPods, TV remotes, and the newest smart-phones.  Me, being a part of the teenage era, have of course came across this.  Technology is a part of modern life now, and you showed us a glimpse of this in your book by the “parlor walls and families” and “Fun Parks”, your version of our electronic entertainment.  This ever growing larger aspect of life isn’t a problem, until it grows so big it swallows everything else, such as simple paperback and hard covers seeming to need to be replaced by the newest Nooks and Kindles.  Will there come a time when paper made books stop being printed at all?

Fahrenheit 451 has also made me realize something I never acknowledged about literature.  Lately, you see books banned from schools and libraries due to whatever reason.  Parents complain that books such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee should not be taught to their children due to profanity and “racial slurs.”  Even books like Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson and The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling develop controversy because of themes of witchcraft and disrespect towards adult figures.  Harry Potter is one of my and thousands upon millions of others all time favorite book series.  Imagine if these books and many others were never read at all because some people thought were not appropriate.  “Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo.  Burn it.  White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Burn it.  Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs?  The cigarette people are weeping?  Burn the book.”  This is what Captain Beatty says about the censorship of literature.  Books are meant to be debated about, conversed about and argued about, not thrown out due to clashing ideas of what should or should not be available to the world.  Reading your book made me think about this: the reasons for authors putting in there books this profanity is there own, either to prove the morals the book is trying to give further or however it may be expelled, but it shouldn’t be hid away from the public eye, or burned away as a illegal item.

I think that one of my favorite parts of this book is the large spectrum of characters.  I see the characters as a portrayal of different aspects of the story.  Clarisse McCellan, for example, is the person who starts to change Guy Montag’s way of thinking.  “Is it true that long ago firemen put fires out instead of going to start them?”  “Do you ever read the books you burn?”  “Are you happy?”.  These questions asked by Clarisse seemed to linger with Guy throughout the book and fuels his actions of rebellion towards the censorship and burning of books.  In Fahrenheit 451 Guy begins as a simple-minded member of society, like everyone else, acting as a dutiful firemen, “It was a pleasure to burn.”.  What we end with is a man who has lost everything, for books and literature and knowledge, while the rest of the citizenry sit and watch the parlor walls, wasting their lives away and becoming disconnected, like Margaret, Guy’s wife, who spends more time with her “parlor family” then her own husband.  These points in the story got me thinking.  What kind of people will our society and our generation choose to become as the days between our time and yours grow shorter.  Are we going to decide to ask the questions “why” not “how” like Clarisse, or will we turn into the mindless characters your future day America is, people who don’t bother to break the barrier between what they do and don’t know, leaving what’s left on the other side to be burned and forgotten?  I’ve never even thought about any of this before picking up you book and dusting it off.

Fahrenheit 451 made me realize things that I had never managed to pull from my seventh grade mind.  Is technology becoming such a big influence on our teenage generation it will replace books all together?  Is censorship in schools becoming a bigger burden on literature, keeping a leash on the minds of school age children, middle-schoolers like me, and preventing them from reading important books in our history, or just excellent books in themselves?  How far until our present becomes your future?  Does our society really mirror yours so closely?  All these questions came up in my mind while reading and devouring whole-heartedly your book.  Thank you, Mr. Ray Bradbury, for making me realize how precious books and read are, and how we should cherish our literature.  Thank you for making me realize how much technology influences me, and pretty much all of modern America.  Thank you, for giving me the experience of a lifetime reading your book, I’ve never loved reading more.


Shannon Chinn