What do you see in the picture?
Which words come to your head?
Can you classify those words into positive or negative ideas?
For which daily activities might you need fire?
When was the last time you…?
…cried at the end of a film?
…travelled by plane?
…started a new hobby?
…called a friend?
…walked more than 10 km?
…read a book?
Cultural Heritage Background
The novel “Fahrenheit 451”, by Ray Bradbury, is an example of dystopian fiction. It was published in 1953. It is also classified as science fiction because it describes significant technological advancements for its time.
“Dystopian” is the opposite of “utopian”. Dystopian fiction describes an imagined society that has come about as a consequence of humanity going down the “wrong path”. Dystopian societies struggle with social problems such as destitution, inequality, injustice, and disconnectedness.
The book wants to denounce “censorship”; it shows very clearly what can happen if a powerful group of people controls which ideas can be shared. Censorship implies the suppression of words, images or ideas considered “offensive” by that group. It happens whenever some people manage to impose their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government but also by private pressure groups.
Watch this video https://youtu.be/xJ0sWvr5Ids in which Ray Branbury explains how Fahrenheit 451 was born. English subtitles are available.
Listening Comprehension (optional)
Reading the story
“Nineteen Eighty-Four” is a novel by English author George Orwell. It was published in 1949 as a warning against totalitarianism. The dystopia described in the book made a deep impression on readers and the book entered mainstream culture in a really unique way. The book’s title and many of its concepts, such as “Big Brother” and the “Thought Police”, are instantly recognized and understood.
The book is set in 1984 in Oceania, one of three warring totalitarian states (the other two are Eurasia and Eastasia). Oceania is governed by the all-controlling Party. This party has brainwashed the population into unthinking obedience to its leader, Big Brother. The Party has created a propagandistic language known as “Newspeak”. This is a language designed to limit free thought and promote the Party’s doctrines. Its words include “doublethink” (belief in contradictory ideas simultaneously). This doublethink is reflected in the Party’s slogans: “War is peace”, “Freedom is slavery”, and “Ignorance is strength”. The Party maintains control through the Thought Police and continual surveillance.
The book’s hero, Winston Smith, is a minor party functionary living in a London that is still in ruins after the nuclear war that took place after World War II. He belongs to the Outer Party, and his job is to rewrite history in the Ministry of Truth, bringing it in line with current political thinking. However, Winston’s desire for truth and decency leads him to secretly rebel against the government. He embarks on a forbidden affair with his friend Julia and they rent a room in a neighbourhood populated by Proles (short for proletariats). Winston also becomes increasingly interested in the Brotherhood, a group of dissenters. Winston and Julia are being watched closely (posters throughout the city warn residents that “Big Brother is watching you”). But they don’t know this!
When Winston is approached by O’Brien—an official of the Inner Party who appears to be a secret member of the Brotherhood—the trap is set. O’Brien is actually a spy for the Party who looks for “thought-criminals”. Winston and Julia are eventually caught and sent to the Ministry of Love for a violent re-education. The imprisonment, torture, and re-education of Winston have two different goals. First, to break him physically or make him submit. Second, to destroy his independence and dignity. In Room 101 prisoners are forced into submission by exposure to their worst nightmares. In this room Winston panics when a cage of rats is close to his head. He yells out for his tormentors to “Do it to Julia!” and states that he does not care what happens to her. With this betrayal, Winston is released. He later encounters Julia, and neither of them is interested in the other any longer. Instead Winston loves Big Brother.
Look at these words:
dystopian – disappear – disconnected –disadvantage
Passive verb forms
Read about active and passive verb forms.
When a verb is in an active form, it means that the subject does the action of the verb.
For example: The girl eats the apple. Here, the girl is acting.
When a verb is in a passive form, it means that the subject of the verb is acted upon.
For example: The apple is eaten. Here, the apple is the subject of the verb, but it is not eating anyone!
We form the passive by using a form of the verb be + the past participle.
Look at the sentences below.
Turn the sentences from active form to passive form:
Do you want to know more about “Nineteen Eighty Four” and George Orwell?
Can you think of any other dystopias? Watch this film on how to recognize a dystopia.
Extra resources for learners
Fahrenheit 451: analysis and insights
Fahrenheit 451: the movies from 1966 to 2018