Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I once heard an anecdote about a famous film critic who said that he wasn’t going to watch “The African Queen” until he was on his deathbed, because he wanted to save the best for last. Maybe that’s why I, a fan of classic literature and American literature both, have waited so long to read Fahrenheit 451. Of course, like so many people, my plans were foiled by a child, namely my step-son who wanted help with his 8th grade summer reading, and who could say no to that? Looking around the site you can see that I adore Ray Bradbury, so much so that I would venture to say that, were I ever able to get a PhD., I might just specialize in his works. I think he’s an overlooked genius, but at least, I thought, at least students read Fahrenheit 451. Then I read the novel … and it’s not very good. Also, everything after this point is spoilers, just FYI.

Compared to Bradbury’s corpus, Fahrenheit 451 should have been a footnote; flat characters, been-done plot (it’s basically Anthem), not-helpful observations about how technology is rotting minds. It’s almost the opposite of some of his works, specifically The Martian Chronicles collection, wherein machines are personified sympathetically. In Fahrenheit 451 it’s just “technology bad, people complacent” and the characters … I need to organize my thoughts because I cannot just ramble about my disappointment. All I’m saying is that, if that anecdote is true, I really hope that critic liked “The African Queen” because, for me, not liking Fahrenheit 451 was quite the bummer.

The novel opens with Guy Montag being thrilled with his work as a fireman, you know, the book burning kind. Then there’s a lonely walk down a moodily lit street. Enter: a dame. Clarisse McClellan is teenager and unusual, asking Montag all manner of questions as they find themselves walking side by side. This feels like a “meet cute,” where our two polar opposites meet, don’t agree, yet are drawn to each other. Montag is thirty and Clarisse is seventeen, to which my step-son said “eew!” but whatever, I’m much younger than my S.O. and it couldn’t bother me less. So I guess their age difference is supposed to establish them as platonic? Yet he looks for her every day, misses her, she leaves him little quirky manic pixie dream girl presents like acorns, and Montag thinks about her face, “really quite beautiful in memory: astonishing, in fact.” Clarisse asks him why he doesn’t read the books he burns and she asks if he’s happy before running off into the moonlight, she is the character that introduces these huge concepts to Montag … but then she’s unceremoniously killed off. For no reason.

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Ambiguity and Discomfort in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

For the record, I have three or more analyses of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838) that I need to write to be happy. Roughly they are:

1) The way in which Pym is an example of what Freud called “the uncanny,” and why that’s important. I need to re-read Freud to do this one and I don’t have time just yet.

2) An explication of the ways in which Pym loosely mirrors/makes reference to the Divine Comedy. (I have research to back this up already!)

3) Pym‘s place in the literary tradition, specifically the Robinsonade and travel narrative, and what he does with these traditions.

I have so many ideas about what I want to say about this novella because it’s such a dense text. It’s only a novella (ie: short), but in it the main character ricochets from Robinsonade to cannibalism, from ghost ship to polar explorer, from colonial figure to fugitive, and then it all explodes with an ending that drops you off a cliff. What happened? What is happening? What is going to happen? Not knowing, it seems, upsets people.

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