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Fahrenheit 451, the Butchery of Figurative Language, and the CCSS

By Dave Stuart Jr.

Every time that I've taught Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, one of my opinions of the book remains the same: Bradbury horridly overuses figurative language. Once I finish reading Fahrenheit 451 each year, I don't want to see another example of simile, metaphor, or personification for at least a few months.

Why Teach a Book You Don't Enjoy?

The first reason that I read Fahrenheit with my students is because it's part of the standard Freshman Comp & Lit curriculum at our school. I want my students to be a part of conversations that are larger than my classroom. Similarly, I want their future teachers to have an easy time finding a reference point, and novels shared across a grade level provide such common ground.

Even more significantly, I teach the book because it is fertile ground for all kinds of great debate. Though Bradbury seems to do his best to hide what he's talking about beneath his lavish use of figurative language, this book could be used as a diving board into debates on topics as wide-ranging as political involvement, the dumbing down of politics in the USA, the effects of widespread pornography use, the dumbing down of reading, the dumbing down of school, whether it's all right to feel dumb sometimes, the effect of technology on our society, and whether fun should be our top aim. These are all arguments that can be based solidly in the text itself and on extra-textual sources (I recommend starting at TheWeek.com, and they don't pay me to say that).

But finally, I teach Fahrenheit 451 because, despite my dislike for Bradbury's style, I have found that my students can learn a lot about language through reading this novel, especially when I am honest with them about my personal hatred for the overuse of figurative language.

But wait, you exclaim — you're an English teacher! Surely you know that it's impossible to overuse wonderfully clever things like metaphors and similes and personification! Hand over your credentials immediately, you absurd man!

Now that we're past the outrage, let me explain. In most modes of writing that the college and career ready (CCR) student will encounter, figurative language will be effective only if it is used intentionally and sparingly (within the Language strand, there are two standards that I think this relates to: L.CCR.3 and L.CCR.4). Thus, Fahrenheit 451 creates some great conversations towards bringing students to this understanding.

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2 Responses to Fahrenheit 451, the Butchery of Figurative Language, and the CCSS

  1. SavannahNight October 16, 2015 at 7:50 am #

    You cannot imagine the great sigh of relief you’ve given me this morning. You EXIST. Thank you. I just finished F451 last night (and sure, good story; good message; good exposition but …) and by the time I got to the end of this literary torture device I swore that if I had to endure ONE MORE sachrine, superfluous simile I was going to go postal.

    My lord … and they gave this guy awards?? Wow. Life is weird.

    • Mike Mooney December 2, 2015 at 12:46 pm #

      Bradbury was a visionary and he used figurative language to give readers sight of those visions.

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