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Letters About Literature: Dear Ray Bradbury

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In this fourth installment of our Letters About Literature series, we highlight the Level 2 (grades 7-8) National Honor Winner Jane Wang of Chandler, Ariz., who wrote to Ray Bradbury, author of “Fahrenheit 451.”

Dear Ray Bradbury,

                  “Fahrenheit 451 the temperature at which books burn.” A title that would kindle any curious eighth grader’s interest. Its simplistic, plain back cover showed only a small picture of an ancient, smoldering tome to hint at the plot. It bore the distinct appearance of being one of those antiquated, perplexing novels with a profound theme that would probably make my language arts teacher grow all warm and fuzzy inside but leave my head pounding. But your book was so much more than even that. It was a story of ignorance and knowledge, illusions and reality, misery and happiness. It was a story that changed my perspective of something that had once troubled me very much.

                  Controversy and debate; I have never liked either of them. It was previously my belief that they had only ever been a nuisance to me and overcomplicated my life. You see, I am a naturally cautious person. I do not enjoy taking risks, and I hate having to make decisions or pick sides for fear that I will regret it later. It has always been a huge burden to me and in my mind; I used to tentatively entertain the notion of a much easier life where only one opinion, one belief, and one answer existed for everything. There would be no more test questions asking “why,” no more arguments with Mom about possibilities for the future, no more discord between countries regarding controversial government programs or questionable laws. After all the absence of furious debates and nasty disputes should lead to a happier, more peaceful, and ultimately better world, right? Wrong. Your novel showed me just how wrong I was.

                  “Fahrenheit 451” told the tale of a world where the controversy and debate that had troubled me so much did not exist. But I quickly realized that your book did not tell a happy story. That controversy and debate had been eliminated at the cost of something much more important: free, individual thought. Montag’s wife, Mildred, and the rest of her friends cared about nothing more than their own immediate pleasures. Anything that required even the slightest bit of time or concentration was believed to interfere with the advanced technology, loud music, and fast cars they enjoyed in their fast-paced lives. Literature, self-reflection, and even the simple act of thinking had no place in their world, though they play important roles in mine. I read to learn and grow. I reflect to make myself a better person. And thinking, wondering about the ways of the world as Clarisse did, is something I take for granted. The books that Beatty, Montag, and the rest of the firemen sought to burn have shaped me into who I am today. All my life, I have surrounded myself with books to promote my learning and knowledge of the world; I would be miserable without them. Montag and many others in your novel never had that opportunity to experience such a form of genuine happiness. They never had the chance to spend that time on their own simply sitting in a rocking chair at their own front porch and quietly reflecting. And without that special moment to think and wonder, Montag and everyone else’s mind slowly faded away as they were continually stifled and restrained, their individual thoughts and ideas burned away with books they couldn’t even remember. No wonder all that controversy and debate disappeared; how could there have been any argument regarding any matter if no one knew of any problems to discuss?

                  Your novel did not change me in a particularly noticeable way. I did not take on a radical new personality or come to any unexpected epiphanies. My peers and others around me still saw the same careful, perfectionist girl they had known before. But underneath all the layers of invisible yellow caution tape that I had wrapped myself up in was a girl with a new perspective. Suddenly, the words controversy and debate did not seem like the very nemeses of my cautious nature. What was once a burden now seems like a wonderful gift to be cherished. “Fahrenheit 451” showed me what a life without argument would entail. Your novel allowed me to understand that where there are no disagreements, there are no personal opinions, and where there are no personal opinions, there are no individual thoughts.

                  Furthermore, I realized after reading your book that the events in your novel were not all fictional. Censorship exists in today’s society just as it did in the world of “Fahrenheit 451”; burning books is just a rather extreme version of it. I recognize the fact that there are people who live in places very similar to Montag’s world, where individual thoughts that don’t align with the purported ideals are forbidden. I know now that I am very fortunate to be able to experience the occasional disagreement, because controversy and debate are proof that my thoughts are well and truly my own.

                  Thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for writing “the novel of firemen who are paid to set books ablaze.”

Jane Wang

Letters About Literature, a national reading and writing program that asks young people in grades 4 through 12 to write to an author (living or deceased) about how his or her book affected their lives, announced its 2014 winners in June. More than 50,000 young readers from across the country participated in this year’s initiative, a reading-promotion program of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

National and honor winners were chosen from three competition levels: Level 1 (grades 4-6), Level 2 (grades 7-8) and Level 3 (grades 9-12). You can read the letters from the Level 1 winners here and here and the Level 2 National Winner here. In addition, winning letters from previous years are available to read online.

Comments (53)

  1. I find it interesting that some of the winning letters are from such enlightened children who are concerned about their future and see how our world is becoming more and more big brother

  2. I found this very sad and cruel and mean and should I really keep going on

  3. When the book made you come out of the caution tape you felt alive as a new girl so why did your peers see you as the same? If your peers saw as a new girl then why did they look at you on the outside, but not the inside.

  4. well thought of you deserve the win

  5. This letter basically sums up how I felt during the book, I myself do not like controversy but I do like debates and I too realized how much controversy is needed in this world, and how much it can affect an environment or system.

  6. I do not think this books purpose was censorship

  7. This book impacted me by making me question a government in a dystopian future. A future in which a government controls all aspects of life could have worse impacts on a society than in one that functions on its own. Overall, I agree with your letter and its message. You deserve to have won the prize.

  8. This letter to Mr.Bradbury is very well-written, I am the same way you were, and it takes certain people or things to take me out of that, much like “Fahrenheit 451” did for you. Kudos to you Miss Wang for winning and writing such an excellent piece of literature.

  9. Very Inspiring Letter and was very well thought

  10. I agree with the fact that sometimes we all can agree that without controversy or debate, it can seem it would make our life more simple. This book helped me realize that when we only have one option, it might not be the right option, and the people do not have a say in the life they live. The government gets to make every decision for the people.

  11. I agree that Fahrenheit 451 shows you what a life could be without argument and individual thoughts. Hopefully this will never happen to our world in the future.

  12. I agree that this book is relevant to the times we live in because so many people are engrossed in their screens, which can bring about conflict and destruction in a society. Technology allows people to stay inside and look through people artificially, which consequences in people having less real life interactions with the world and other

  13. This essay very was a clear announcement of the way most young people would react to such a unique futuristic novel. In this century, where controversy is abundant, it was very necessary to see a world where controversy is extinct. Ray Bradbury portrayed a character who was breaking away from a society that was tainted by the path it was taking to destroy debatable opinions. This plot line is very inspiring and and the essay really explained this feeling with great capacity.

  14. This novel really made me think about what I take for granted in life. It shows the way we are lucky to have free speech and free thought. It also opens your mind to how wonderful books are.
    I thought the letter was an okay representation of the book, and it was very descriptive for an middle school grade level.

  15. I love the way you relate the setting of Fahrenheit 451 to everyday life. I never thought about the overall meaning as thorough as you do, and because of your letter, I now understand the ultimate purpose of his novel. I grasp the idea that a life with arguments/ the ability to express your thoughts is be a key aspect to promoting change in the perspectives and views of the people which did not exist in the novel. I greatly acknowledge you as a fantastic critic and writer.

  16. This is such a great, insightful letter. I totally agree about the fact that individual thought is one of the most important things you can have. You convey this very much in your letter, and you mention several times how vital knowledge is. It is deeply unsettling that there censorship in our modern world, and I hope that people can take action to make sure everyone had access to learning and free speech. Your letter is deeply affecting, and I commend you for writing this amazing letter.

  17. I personally think your letter was amazing, it opened my eyes a little bit more, even after I had already read Fahrenheit 451.Fahrenheit 451 impacted my life in several different ways. First I love to read, so I’m constantly reading. When I read the part about burning books, and the homes that the books are found in I was devastated. All the books that I read impact me one way or another. Fahrenheit taught me that sometimes you just have to be the one who can take their lives into their own hands, and do what they believe in even if it contradict your friends, society, and family’s belief.

  18. I think that your letter was absolutely amazing, for you to be able to pour your heart and soul in to a letter expressing your feelings about a book as great as Fahrenheit 451, it just phenomenal. I agree with every little detail you put into your letter, you were able to write the words that I could not because I have no courage to share my work to anyone ever. This letter was a pleasure to read and I think that Ray Bradbury would be very proud of you and this letter today.

  19. I really love how you’ve structured this letter. You really deserve the win. Also, I find it really cool that your in my age group.

  20. I agree with your letter because controversy and debate are really important, and a society will not survive without it. If a government takes away all your freedom to have your own opinion everyone will be brainwashed, and there will be no diversity. People have to be able to speak their mind and express their feelings or they will just live in a bubble. Your letter was very well written.

  21. I agree, the events in Fahrenheit 451 are not all fiction. Censorship is a big issue right now, and many schools and libraries are banning books because of language, themes, or the events that happen in the book. More and more people are focusing on modern day technology as opposed to books. This letter was very well written, and I agree with most of what was said. Censorship is an important subject, and books should not be banned or, in extreme cases, burned because people do not agree with the themes. Technology is important, and a great creation, but technology should not overshadow books. People are beginning to view books as unimportant or worthless, and that needs to change.

  22. It is hard to believe that an 8th grader wrote this descriptive letter. It really helped me understand the theme of the book much better. I can relate to her opinions about controversy and debate, sometimes they can make situations difficult and frustrating, but they ultimately create change and solve problems. Today we take to our own thoughts and opinions for granted, because it is a freedom we have always had. But, if you think about the costs for having your own opinion in Fahrenheit 451 you realize how terrible that would be.

  23. I agree that technology plays a big role in this book. The characters value technology more than their free, individual thought. I disagree with the censorship because the book was mainly about how the people did it to themselves. Overall it was a good letter.

  24. Jane Wang, I would like to commend you for making such an insightful and rewarding letter. I love how you stayed away from writing the typical letter to an author where you shower them with compliments. Instead you were able to give him constructive criticism and show him your exact thoughts. Your point of view really changed mine. It made me second guess my thoughts and rethink what was previously read.

  25. I think this is a well developed letter. I agree with when you said, “After all the absence of furious debates and nasty disputes should lead to a happier, more peaceful, and ultimately better world, right? Wrong. Your novel showed me just how wrong I was”. This statement is very true because you can relate it too society today, and Fahrenheit 451.

  26. I believe that this title doesn’t ignite all eighth graders curiosity because is has no depth behind is and a little bland. I liked this book but I just think the title could be better

  27. I agree with this and I think it is really thought out

  28. So cool, i had to do this for a school assignment so idk really what to say. Great letter! Lots of cool words! You’re obviously very smart. Congratulations!!! Very well done.

  29. I agree that there is censorship in the real world

  30. your letter is very well written and I enjoyed reading it very much.

  31. This was a great essay you deserved to win the award.

  32. I got in trouble for the last one, so here’s another one. I find it very interesting and well thought out. You represented the book fantastically in your letter and provided a lot of intellectual insight into the book. Your letter intrigued me and said a lot of things I personally have been thinking but didn’t know exactly how to say. Congrats

  33. I agree with this because the book also made me feel very curious when I started, and it also made me think more about controversial topics.

  34. This is really intellectual and i agree with it. The book was confusing but unique.

  35. i think this is very insightful. this book was confusing but there was some light in this book that i think you found.

  36. I agree with you for the most part, however I do not think that the title catches an eighth graders attention. I am in eighth grade, and I was not very intrigued by the title, and neither were many of my classmates.

  37. I agree with your comment on controversy.
    This book delivers many different ideas that many people right now would strongly disagree with.

  38. I agree with this because the title also made me feel very curious when I started, and it also made me think more about controversial topics.

  39. The third paragraph is a bit confusing but other than that it’s a great letter. It’s very descriptive and well explained.

  40. I agree with you almost wholly. However, I have valued different opinions and views throughout my lifetime, being a generally accepting person. Additionally, Fahrenheit 451 reinforced my views on the importance of varying opinions, similar to you.

  41. After reading this, it opens up the idea of how others interpreted the book. This book seriously deserved the award it got!

  42. I do agree about what you said about controversy and debate. Many people who read this right now might agree strongly or disagree strongly, and it really opened up how other people viewed the book. I believe that it definitively deserved the award it got.

  43. When the author says “Fahrenheit 451 showed me what a life without argument would entail”. It really spoke to me and really got me thinking that life would be boring and dull without arguments. Sometimes arguing is good because you express your true feelings in words.

  44. this was a great way to share you opinion on the book you deserved this great award.

  45. With this letter you definitely deserved to win. I can tell that you really enjoyed the book because you were very deep and thoughtful with your writing

  46. Jane Wang, I absolutely love your letter. It’s very inspiring and thoughtful. I love the way you expressed your feelings for the book in such a descriptive, well developed way. This book was a emotional roller coaster… but it’s also a book I will never forget.
    Your letter is something that I could never forget as well… Congratulations on this wonderful piece you have written. I’m sure you have inspired many others.

  47. I think that it is interesting that the you realize that this was not all fiction that some of it was real. I can observe that you really thought and took the time to understand the book. You deserved to win!

  48. I thought this was very well written for an eight grader. I, Personally, did NOT like this book because it was confusing and boring and the title doesn’t make me want to read it. You obviously very smart and know what you’re talking about though. This book did not interest me at all even though I love to read.:)

  49. I felt that this book was boring and confusing. It was definitely not my favorite. The title did not interest me as something that I would like to read. However, Jane Wang is excellent at writing for an eighth grader.

  50. I thought of the book as a scary reminder that sure that new technology of some sort help us more with are every day lives, but if it get in the wrong hands, who knows what they could do to us. As the Letter says, “Suddenly, the words controversy and debate did not seem to be my nemesis” I agreed strongly and have no say to the matter really would stink. Although it was quite confusing, the book got more interesting and really made me think twice about new development in possibly very dangerous things. Over all it was a very moving read.

  51. This was a very interesting book and had many things i agree on in this letter.I think Ray Bradbury is a great author and he didn’t know that this stuff he wrote about would happen to day for example everybody is always on there phone that actually happened to me just yesterday we were out in public and everybody was using snap-chat.
    He also talked about everybody was always is sucked up into there TV and if you think about it TVs and and phones are getting bigger and better every day.In Ray Bradburies book non of this was happening.

  52. This book accompanied by this letter has opened my eyes further than I believed possible. Mr. Ray Bradbury’s descriptions had me in awe of how something as simple such as a machine could become a big black snake. As for Miss Jane Wang what an incredible way she has manipulated her words to become a smart well-written letter. She most definitely deserved the win.

  53. I fully agree free thought, differing opinions, and debate are vital. After all, having multiple ideas or options can lead to a better result. Fahrenheit 451 well illustrates a world where differing opinions are immediately discarded. I love how she describes the book as, “a story of ignorance and knowledge, illusions and reality, misery and happiness.” The only thing I would add to this is confusing descriptions! Overall though this synopsis really hits the nail on the head. As for Miss Jane Wang, I’m glad she didn’t go through a radical change, we may need different opinions, but we also need smart careful thinkers.

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