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Since its
publication in 1953, Ray Bradbury’s best selling novel Fahrenheit 451 has
routinely stirred up controversy, and is now a regular on the American Library
Association’s list of Most Frequently Challenged Books. Despite ruffling quite
a few feathers, this work of dystopian fiction condemning state censorship has
been lauded by many as a “visionary work of social commentary”, only to emerge
as a classic of sorts. As a result, it has found its way onto high school reading
lists across the United States. Irony lies in the fact that several schools use
a highly censored version of the book, with around 75 separate modifications
and deletions. One can hazard a guess at how faithful this ‘mutilated
manuscript’, as Bradbury himself called it, is to the original work.

It is not
uncommon for reading material to be censored before its introduction into
school curricula. While some pieces are subjected to mild editing in order to
make them more age-appropriate, others are expurgated to the extent that they
become mere shadows of the originals. Although requests for the removal of
profanity and explicit content are not unreasonable, it is important to look at
these matters in the context of the book, the time period in which it was
written, and the issues it aims to address. Often, small portions of a text
viewed in isolation are cited as ‘reasonable’ grounds for banning the manuscript
in its entirety from school libraries and syllabi, with its underlying message
being completely ignored. Many frequently challenged books such as Toni
Morrison’s ‘The Bluest Eye’ and Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ hold
powerful lessons which several children may never have an opportunity to learn,
simply due to lack of access.

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is a compelling medium through which key issues such as race, religion and
feminism can be understood and discussed, and it is imperative to address these
matters as children grow up and begin to form their own opinions about the
world around them. Silencing the voices of those whose views and experiences do
not 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. Children
who are not taught early on to respect and understand/appreciate view points that
differ from their own may never learn to do so, and grow into adults who often
lack empathy and reason. 

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