Monday, June 4, 2007

Don't you hate when English teachers tell you what a book is supposed to mean?

Remember reading Fahrenheit 451 in high school? Or other books like it? And then having to write a paper about What It All Meant, which usually entailed taking what the teacher said and finding things in the text to (kind of) support it?

Well, it turns out that Bradbury wasn't writing about government censorship when he wrote the book. Nor was it a response to McCarthyism. It was, Bradbury says, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature. Who knew?

I know, I know, the reader brings her or his interpretation of the story, and the writer puts things in unconsciously blah blah blah. And that is fine - I don't disagree with that. But writers do write things on purpose, and they certainly have the final say as to their intent. Plus I have a sneaking suspicion that most English teachers would have frowned on that interpretation of the book in a student paper prior to Bradbury stating his intent. If you want to know more, you can read this article, which appeared in the LA Weekly - and for the info straight from the horse's mouth, you can watch the videos from Bradbury's website.

I remember a story my French teacher told me in high school. She said that Robert Frost had come to visit her university, and after he gave his speech, he was walking around in the gardens, where students could approach him with questions and comments. One of my teacher's friends ran up to him and said, "Mr. Frost! When you wrote 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,' and you wrote about the snow, the snow meant death, right?" And Frost smiled and said, "Actually, I wrote about the snow because it was snowing."


  1. AnonymousJune 04, 2007

    oh my God yes, I hated in my junior year my English teacher insisting on what the green and red lights from the lighthouse in the Great Gatsby meant. God I hated that book and I think part of the reason is we interpreted it to death!

    I really do think sometimes intellectuals take themselves too seriously. Good thing I'm not part of that crowd, hee hee.

  2. What I can't figure out is why it took Bradbury this long to explain his intent to the public.

    I just found your blog and have enjoyed wandering through it. Very nice.

  3. Yes, VA Gal, I know just what you mean. I have had to interpret so many things to death - I think it turns off so many kids to reading, especially when they are made to read things that are clearly too old for them, things that they have nothing in common with (like when I was made to read An American Tragedy in the 8th grade. Sheesh!).

    And thanks, petunia! I was also wondering what took Bradbury so long. It did say in the article that "He bristles when others tell him what his stories mean, and once walked out of a class at UCLA where students insisted his book was about government censorship." So maybe he's been saying it all along, and no one's been listening? But still, it doesn't make much sense that he didn't make a point of getting it into Sam Weller's recent biography about him. Hmm - one of those mysteries, I guess.


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