Since itspublication in 1953, Ray Bradbury’s best selling novel Fahrenheit 451 hasroutinely stirred up controversy, and is now a regular on the American LibraryAssociation’s list of Most Frequently Challenged Books. Despite ruffling quitea few feathers, this work of dystopian fiction condemning state censorship hasbeen lauded by many as a “visionary work of social commentary”, only to emergeas a classic of sorts. As a result, it has found its way onto high school readinglists across the United States. Irony lies in the fact that several schools usea highly censored version of the book, with around 75 separate modificationsand deletions.
One can hazard a guess at how faithful this ‘mutilatedmanuscript’, as Bradbury himself called it, is to the original work.It is notuncommon for reading material to be censored before its introduction intoschool curricula. While some pieces are subjected to mild editing in order tomake them more age-appropriate, others are expurgated to the extent that theybecome mere shadows of the originals.
Although requests for the removal ofprofanity and explicit content are not unreasonable, it is important to look atthese matters in the context of the book, the time period in which it waswritten, and the issues it aims to address. Often, small portions of a textviewed in isolation are cited as ‘reasonable’ grounds for banning the manuscriptin its entirety from school libraries and syllabi, with its underlying messagebeing completely ignored. Many frequently challenged books such as ToniMorrison’s ‘The Bluest Eye’ and Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ holdpowerful lessons which several children may never have an opportunity to learn,simply due to lack of access.Literatureis a compelling medium through which key issues such as race, religion andfeminism can be understood and discussed, and it is imperative to address thesematters as children grow up and begin to form their own opinions about theworld around them. Silencing the voices of those whose views and experiences donot conform to what is deemed ‘acceptable’ only creates a culture of intolerance,which, when coupled with a general lack of awareness, is a deadly combination.
Childrenwho are not taught early on to respect and understand/appreciate view points thatdiffer from their own may never learn to do so, and grow into adults who oftenlack empathy and reason.