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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The Martian Chronicles: “Usher II” by Ray Bradbury, Summary and Analysis

Usher II, Hungarian Graphic Novel

Below is a synopsis and analysis of “Usher II” from The Martian Chronicles for my class and, perhaps more accurately, for myself. I hope you enjoy!

“Usher II (2004-2005)” was originally published as “Carnival of Madness” in 1950 by Standard Magazines. It works as Bradbury’s love letter to Poe and feels like a prequel or alternate timeline for Fahrenheit 451 (1953) as it deals with censorship. It is similar to the 1949 short story “The Exiles” which was reprinted in The Illustrated Man (1951). “The Exiles” deals with authors whose spirits are on Mars, fearfully awaiting the burning of the final copies of their books. “Usher II” like “The Naming of Names” covers a period of time rather than a specific month, which is unusual because it seems to take place over the span of 1-2 days rather than 1-2 years. This chapter is also foreshadowed in the previous chapter, “The Naming of Names.”

Characters

William Stendahl: Millionaire and lover of fiction who concocts the elaborate plan for Usher II (which he calls “The House of Usher,” I am calling it “Usher II” for the sake of clarity). Importantly, he is the only character with a first name. Stendahl is characterized by intense anger and, although not likable, is the protagonist.

Mr. Bigelow: The architect who designed Usher II without knowing or caring what it is. He represents the complacent, unquestioning attitude of people, the “common man” in this story.

Mr. Garrett: Investigator of Moral Climates is his official title, he is in charge of enforcing the laws that regulate fiction and imagination. Like many characters in the story he has a robot double. Lack of imagination is his downfall.

Pikes: Stendahl’s right-hand man, an actor who is not allowed to act, and who is characterized by extreme bitterness. Pikes assists Stendahl in engineering the events in “Usher II.”

The Party Guests: Numbered around three dozen, some of which have names (so the narration flows well). They are portrayed essentially as sheep (like Bigelow) who Stendahl had befriended in the time leading up to the “party.” They, too, represent “the masses.” Continue reading

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Published in 1962 Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury is the story of two teenage (13 year old) boys who discover an evil carnival and attempt to save their town from it. The edition above is the one that I read, and the very 80s-looking cover did not help the case. The creepy bowl-haired child riding a neon purple carousel horse could not fit into any story I wanted to read*. However, it was Bradbury so I had to pick it up.

The story follows Jim Nightshade (on the cover) and Will Halloway (he yells “Jim!” a lot) through their adventure with the carnival, which is 90% freaks and 10% evil dudes. Evil dude #1, Mr. Cooger, is barely in the story, but ends up masquerading as an evil baby doll person thing (the influence of this novel on Stephen King is evident). Evil dude #2, Mr. Dark, is the real baddie though, tattooing victims on his arm before giving them “what they want” as long as “what they want” is a ride on the Magic Carousel of Evil Badness. Predictably, the carousel gives them the monkey paw version of what ever they want, though we never see anyone ride it aside from Cooger. For the most part what people want is to be younger (adults) or older (Jim!). This is a happy coincidence since the only thing the reader is assured of is that the carousel can make people younger or older depending on if it runs backward or forward. We are just left to wonder how the other “freaks” were transformed.

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The Martian Chronicles: “The Naming of Names” by Ray Bradbury, Summary and Analysis

Below is a synopsis and analysis of The Martian Chronicles for my class and, perhaps more accurately, for myself. I hope you enjoy!

“The Naming of Names: 2004-2005” is a continuity chapter in The Martian Chronicles and was published with the first edition of the collection. Per usual (for a continuity chapter) it ends with an ellipsis, but it is the only chapter that covers a chunk of time rather than a specific date/month. In general the mini chapter discusses the re-naming of the towns and landmarks on Mars. It also lets the reader know that now humans are aware of what happened to the early expeditions: “Here was the place where Martians killed the first Earth men […] And here where the Second Expedition was destroyed.” The narrator also states that the place where “Martians” (though we know it was Yll) killed the First Expedition is called “Red Town and had to do with blood.” Bradbury’s use of color imagery is so detailed and subtle in this collection that this blatant association should be noted as important. The narrator also states “of course there was a Spender Hill and a Nathaniel York Town,” which implies that Spender (of the pivotal “- and the Moon be Still as Bright” story/chapter) is remembered as a hero and not as a villain.

In the second paragraph the narrator implies that the Martian names were known (or at least knowable), but that the Earth “rockets struck at the names like hammers, breaking away the marble into shale,” and changing them to “IRON TOWN, STEEL TOWN, ALUMINUM CITY,” and others. The use of all caps is unusual and metal imagery has become important in the text at this point so it is worth noting. After the towns, graveyards follow, and once “loneliness” is gone (both a reference to Spender being called “The Lonely One” and the chapter “The Settlers” wherein the narrator states “But the first Lonely Ones had to stand by themselves”) tourists and bureaucrats begin to arrive, which the narrator calls “sophisticates.” This is an usual word and it will be seen again in the text in “The Old Ones.”

These “sophisticates” bring rules and “red tape that had crawled across Earth like an alien weed, and letting it grow on Mars wherever it could take root.” The color red again in such a short chapter is worth of note. Additionally, I believe this to be a direct reference to H. G. Wells War of the Worlds and the red alien weed that spreads over Earth as the Martian invasion advances. The paragraph continues/concludes: “They began to plan people’s lives and libraries; they began to instruct and push about the very people who had come to Mars to get away from being instructed and ruled and pushed about. And it was inevitable that some of these people pushed back …” The reference to “lives and libraries” is unusual and we will see precisely what this closing paragraph foreshadows with “Usher II,” the next story/chapter in the collection.

Recurring symbols/themes that appear in this chapter: Color (red), Metal (iron, steel, aluminum), Graveyards, Rockets, Loneliness, and Infestation.