In Memory of Ray Bradbury
Develop empathetic analysts of human character by exploring Bradbury's literary works.
By Elijah Ammen
Ray Bradbury was an unstoppable force of literature, and his influence will endure far beyond his recent death on June 5th, 2012. After 91 years of life, his bibliography includes 27 novels and 600 short stories, as well as numerous plays, screenplays, and teleplays. This prolific collection was a result of a lifelong habit of writing every single day. His writing in the science-fiction and fantasy genres not only inspired generations of writers, scientists, and inventors, but actually predicted modern technology years before it was possible.
Bradbury’s success as a writer can be attributed to the incredible accessibility of his stories. While some of his contemporary science- fiction authors were very focused on science fiction as a technical, scientific process (e.g. Isaac Asimov’s enormous Foundation Trilogy), Bradbury played fast and loose with scientific principles; choosing instead to focus on human character even in fantastic environments. This allowed science fiction to enter mainstream literature and was a significant part of Bradbury’s success.
Even though Bradbury earned a Pulitzer citation and a National Medal of the Arts, his personal story is much more compelling than his awards. He never graduated from college, but attributes his education to a voracious appetite for reading and a constant use of libraries. While the internet is flooded with Ray Bradbury articles right now, this NY Times article gives a touching summary of Ray Bradbury’s life and influence.
Strategies and Literary Works
Bradbury’s short stories are usually about normal people in extraordinary places or circumstances, which is great for writing responses, because it allows students to develop empathy and compare how they would react in the same situation. For instance, in "The Garbage Collector," a city worker is deciding whether or not he should quit his job when the government informs the garbage collectors that they will pick up corpses along with their regular trash. Pupils can react to the issue, but also defend why we as a culture treat our dead with respect. “All Summer in a Day” is a great text for theme, characterization, and setting, and takes place on Venus, where the sun comes out only once every seven years. The story follows the reactions of a class of Earthling children too young to remember the sun. Learners should recognize that though this story takes place on Venus, the reactions of the Earthling children are still true to human nature: that no matter what the environment, human nature is the same.
Major themes of conflict usually include Technology vs. Imagination or Society vs. the Individual. "The Exiles" deals with censorship of literary works that deal with the supernatural: the Earth of 2020 had no place for any books that were not factual and scientific. Through this text, students can learn the value of literature and how books can instruct through delight. "The Exiles" also includes a wealth of allusions to Edgar Allen Poe, William Shakespeare, and Ambrose Bierce.
Bradbury’s best-known novel is Fahrenheit 451, a text used in many high schools and colleges. Fahrenheit 451 is a great prompt for discussions on news information, censorship, and the importance of reading. While you can use tests for comprehension, this text is great for upper-level courses and Socratic seminars, because it addresses a multitude of social issues. This is a great opportunity for learners to write a paper on social criticism and have them respond to Bradbury’s warnings against technology and governmental control.
Finally, Bradbury's collection of essays in Zen in the Art of Writing are great reflections on creativity and inspiration, as told through Bradbury's life experiences. This would be a great resource for creative writing classes or any other higher-level class with aspiring writers.
Here is a lesson plan covering theme, characterization, point of view, and setting in "All Summer in a Day." This lesson is designed to be discussion-based for upper-level classes, but could easily be adapted to middle school with more structured activities in lieu of discussion.
A great resource with small group activities in evaluating news sources of various mediums and affiliations. This could be a helpful entry event for a Fahrenheit 451 novel unit, especially with the small group activities related to government censorship.
A basic check for understanding for the novel. This would be good as a comprehension check if paired with higher-level thinking in open-response or essay questions.
This specifically outlines the structure for a paper responding to social criticism in Bradbury's novel. It is helpful because it provides specific requirements and structure, as well as modeling several options for thesis statements and topic sentences.