Looking at the Past to Understand the Future: Analyzing Irony in the Opening Page

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SWBAT propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate to current discussion to broader themes by connecting our society to that in Fahrenheit 451.

Big Idea

We use what we know from the 1950s to talk about Bradbury's vision of the future, which is, at this point, the present.

Getting Started

5 minutes

Today we start our last text together: Fahrenheit 451. At the beginning of class, I set a challenge to the class. As a department, we have debated whether freshmen are ready for the abstract complexities of this text and many of my colleagues want it to be a junior year text. Each of us had made concessions, and I continue to read Fahrenheit with my honors freshmen. But at the beginning of the unit, I tell them that some English teachers worry that aren't intellectually prepared to read it and that we need to prove them wrong. Cheap ploy? Maybe, but it raises the stakes and motivates the class.

Learning about the 1950s

20 minutes

For homework, students spent time researching the 1950s. We will begin by reviewing their work. I will just ask students to share interesting things they discovered about this time period and I will try to supplement additional information (SL.9-10.1a). For instance, it is inevitable that someone will bring up the  inception of the television in every living room. I will use that detail to talk about what those tvs looked like: a big box with a small screen. This addition will be important when we learn about Mildred's wall-TV units. The size increase and flattening of television sets could be described as a prophetic element of Bradbury's text.


These small details-- the tv, the fear of the atomic bomb, the first credit card-- all help us understand the place from which the novel was written, but also where Bradbury saw society headed. Throughout our reading, I will ask students to question whether the society within the novel is more like Bradbury's or our's. This question, no matter the answer, encourages students to analyze and question the way we live.


Here is a sample of their work: Example 1, Example 2, and Example 3.

Beginning "The Hearth and the Salamander"

25 minutes

Before we begin reading, we will discuss the denotation and connotation of the title of Part 1: "The Hearth and the Salamander." Then we will read the first three paragraphs and pause. These first paragraphs are important to discuss because they set up the primary irony of the text: the protagonist is a fireman, but his job is to start fires and to burn down houses. Bradbury doesn't say this specifically, but it is implied in the description. We will go back through the lines and unpack the description, so that we understand. One way to unpack the text is to discuss the connotations of the word "burn," since the opening line informs the reader that "It was a pleasure to burn" (RL.9-10.1). What a great first sentence! Why is it so great? Do we ever think of burning in a good way? What does the statement imply about the protagonist? (RL.9-10.4 and SL.9-10.1c)


After our discussion, we will read the next three paragraphs. These paragraphs are also beautifully descriptive and deserve attention. Here is an example of how we will begin the discussion (RL.9-10.4 and RL.9-10.5). I will start the discussion in class, but students will focus on these paragraphs for homework.

Wrapping Up

5 minutes

For homework, student will pick, from the last three paragraphs we read, one sentence that they like. Then they will explain why they like it (W.9-10.2 and W.9-10.10). Maybe it sounds nice and they can explain what creates the pleasing quality. Maybe they like image it creates in their mind and they can try to explain what they see. Or maybe they can connect something from these paragraphs to something else they know. We will discuss their work tomorrow in class.


* Note: I tag this task to W.9-10.2 because I see it as a mini-explanatory essay. The students do not write a complete essay, but must back up their explanation with evidence from the paragraphs that we read.