A Healthy Dose of Historical Context and Literary Allusions
The historical and symbolic complexities of Fahrenheit 451 make the novel a challenging text to delve into for several reasons. First, it is difficult for students to understand or relate to the full significance of censorship, mass media, and authoritarian control without explicit guidance. Fahrenheit 451 is also a deeply inter-textual book. The sheer number of literary references in Fahrenheit 451 can overwhelm both students, who are getting their classical feet wet, and teachers, who want to do a rigorous job of covering these textual subtleties. Fortunately, many of the texts listed in Fahrenheit 451 also comprise students' reading lists. The novel opens up space to reconnect with texts already covered, ones coming up, and those outside the curriculum that are nonetheless important. Teachers will find considerable leeway in making their own decisions about which literary works to focus on.
Fahrenheit 451 presents a unique entry point for teachers. It is precisely the embedded-ness of Fahrenheit 451, in recurring historical trends and famous literature, that provides a host of opportunities to engage students in the text and explore themes of media and communication relevant in their lives. On the one hand, it is necessary to frontload students with factoids like the real-life banning of the book in many libraries to this day, the Nazi book-burnings that inspired Bradbury to write the novel, the various textual allusions, and the Cold War simmering in the background. However, once students become familiar with these literary and historical themes, teachers can work with them to get their cyber-savvy and networked minds to make the relevant connections.