Ray Bradbury was Once Told His Interpretation of His Own Book Was Wrong


Ray Bradbury is a name synonymous with one book, Fahrenheit 451, a novel set in a twisted future version of America where books are burned on sight. The book is well-regarded as a literary classic and it has been studied by academics for decades, some of whom once told Bradbury, to his face, that he was wrong about his own book. 

Before we get ahead of ourselves though, it has long been believed by people studying the novel that it is a commentary on censorship and a very clever one at that. There have been literally thousands of articles written about this subject and we’re not going to bore you with the details about how academics have interpreted the novel over the years, because they all say the same basic thing. Fahrenheit 451 is a novel about censorship.

Well that and people bursting into flames.
Well that and people bursting into flames.

The thing is, according to Bradbury, you know, the guy who wrote the book in the first place, it isn’t about censorship, like at all. Though Bradbury did indeed write the book during an era when actual book burnings were a thing that totally could have happened at any moment, he has always insisted that the main theme of the book is the role of the mass media and its effect on the populace, in particular television and how it makes people less able to digest more complex forms of media, like books.

However, virtually nobody accepts this as the true theme of the novel, even though it’s an exact-ish quote from the guy who wrote the bloody thing. The perfect example of this was a time when Bradbury himself was giving a lecture on the novel to a class of college students and upon casually mentioning that the theme of the novel was the dangers of television, he was stopped in his tracks by someone loudly exclaiming “no, it’s about censorship!“.

After regaining his composure, Bradbury then tried to correct the student, presumably by pointing to the part of the cover where it said his name in giant letters, only for the rest of the class to chime in and agree that the novel was totally about censorship.  Bradbury was so pissed off at the sheer pig-headedness of the students that he straight up stormed out of the class and vowed he’d never give another lecture on it.

So the next time someone tells you that college students are full of themselves and you think they’re being a little unfair, just remember that a group of them once literally tried to argue with a guy who wrote the book they were studying and made him leave out of frustration when they wouldn’t believe his interpretation of his own book.


  • CesareB

    “However, virtually nobody excepts this as the true theme…” – I think you meant “accepts”. I know no one edits your work, so here I am helping you out. Nice fact.

    • Thanks for the heads up, I was a little rushed when I wrote this.

      Glad you liked it!

    • BabsonTask

      And not even a thank you…

    • Britt

      Also: “book burning were a thing that totally could have happened at any moment” should be: “book burning totally could have happened at any moment…” The agreement was incorrect and the wording redundant.

      Anyways, a good follow-up to this article is the book (italics) Amusing Ourselves to Death (de-italics), by Neil Postman. It also talks about how media consumption can change the very fabric of society and how consumption of simple media can ruin our ability to understand complexity.

  • Dr. Matthew D. Zarzeczny, FINS

    Karl, hats off on getting over 15,000 views on the article! I was wondering which article from your site (Fact Fiend) and mine (Cracked History) would be the first to pass that milestone! Again, well done!

    • Aerolfos

      Thank Toalbiscuit for sharing it. He broke the entire site!

      • Pinofev

        You do realise that you’ve just replied to a 1 year comment?

        • Fuldermox

          What is a 1 year comment? I didn’t see anything in the article referring to 1 year.

          • Pinofev

            One-year-old. I forgot the “old” part.

  • Michael Ellis Day

    In 1956, Bradbury explicitly said “I wrote this book at a time when I was worried about the way things were going in this country four years ago. Too many people were afraid of their shadows; there was a threat of book burning. Many of the books were being taken off the shelves at that time.”

    • Marcel Moreau

      And how does this mean that the book is about censorship? It could very well be that what he was indicating was that he was worried that people were growing too reliant on television and other media for knowledge and loosing interest in picking up a book and reading. That people were loosing respect for the written word and turning to other means of gathering information that are more passive in nature then active. Watching tv is after all a passive medium for learning information as opposed to reading a book(or in this day and age, looking it up online).

      • Michael Mccutcheon

        too many o’s in loosing, just need one. cuz “lose”

  • Cxioscia

    So what? Ray Bradbury may well have been wrong, if you accept the whole ‘Death of the Author’ thing. Not everyone agrees that writing something affords you special privileged knowledge about it.

    • zlk

      That’s kind of silly. That’s like you giving a speech about one thing and having the audience then exclaim your speech is actually about something entirely different.

      • Guy

        Yeah, it means you failed at your intentions. It happens all the time.

        • GNS

          No, it means that you failed at _communicating_ your intentions. Not that your intentions are (or could be) retrospectively changed by others’ ‘privilege’. That’s just post-modernist silliness.

  • nymetswinws

    Authors should never say what a story is about unless explicitly asked. If someone else interprets their own meaning from a work there is nothing wrong with that. Art is destroyed the moment we are told what to think/feel/believe about it.

    • Kay

      Unless you’re the creator and you had a specific message in mind. They shouldn’t have to keep their mouths shut about their own work. Artists don’t create for YOU, it’s not a favor, or some thought exercise being done for YOU. They don’t owe you anything, and they don’t have to be happy about their work being misinterpreted. Some don’t mind if people take different meanings from their work, Ray Bradbury is an example of someone who did.

  • TheBaltimoron

    [citation needed]

  • guest

    Authorial intent is irrelevant. If Georges Orwell claimed “Animal Farm” wasn’t about the russian revolution and the USSR, we wouldn’t have listened to him. Same here

  • Joe Vaish

    Old thread, but I hope for sake of that is holy none of the people here actually procreate. Please, for the fucking love of god or science or whatever, just don’t!

  • Jermain Man

    Even though it is completely ignorant of these kids to argue with the author about the meaning of his own book, it’s probably the teacher/professor’s fault they are all retarded.

  • Cymen

    Well, in post-modernism, it doesn’t really matter how the author interprets his own work. The author is dead.

  • Joe Blevins

    “Ray Bradbury is a name synonymous with one book.” Bitch, you did not just say that.