Cancel Culture: Censorship, Truth, & Happiness in Fahrenheit 451

Students will explore the concept of “cancel culture” through their reading of Ray Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451 and study of the historical and social context of 1619 Project including the pros and cons against it.

Unit Summary

In Unit 2, students will explore the concept of “cancel culture” through their reading of Ray Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, and the study of The 1619 Project and the backlash against it by politicians in the United States of America. When the phrase “cancel culture” first appeared on social media in 2014 and 2015, it referred to “the idea that a person can be “canceled”...[or] culturally blocked from having a prominent public platform or career. However, over the years, the definition of cancel culture has become integrated with American and international politics and has come to refer to the “erasing of history, encouraging lawlessness, muting citizens, and violating free exchange of ideas, thoughts, and speech.” For the purpose of this unit, we will mostly refer to cancel culture as the latter definition.

This unit starts with building students' knowledge about “cancel culture,” including defining what it is and examining and evaluating contemporary examples of it in our world while reading various articles, essays, letters, and book excerpts. During this arc of the unit, students will not only identify central ideas, trace the line of reasoning in arguments, and evaluate the effectiveness of arguments but also learn about the basics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the conflict surrounding The 1619 Project

The second arc of the unit is a novel study of Fahrenheit 451. As they read about the lives of the characters in Bradbury’s dystopian futuristic society, they will explore how he uses the genre of science fiction to make social commentary about humanity, censorship, and technology. In addition, students will examine how Bradbury uses structure, diction, and figurative language to paint a vivid picture of life in the society he has created. Ultimately, students will draw parallels between the examples of “cancel culture” that they studied earlier in the novel to specific events and actions in Bradbury’s futuristic society. 

In the third and final arc of the unit, students will choose a person, text, or subject matter that has been cancelled to research and write a script for a podcast in which they explain the social and historical context of the incident, explain its contemporary significance and impact, and take a position on the appropriateness of the cancellation and the form it took.

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials

Assessment

This assessment accompanies Unit 2 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Key Knowledge

Essential Questions

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Thematic

  • What does it mean to cancel culture? How does cancelling culture impact our ability to learn from history and understand multiple perspectives? 
  • To what extent is engaging in “cancel culture” socially responsible? 
  • Is censorship in any form justified? What does censorship accomplish? 
  • Can truth and happiness exist simultaneously? 

Skill

  • How and why do writers use literature to create social commentary? 

Vocabulary

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Text-based

anesthetized avenged bombardment breach cacophony cadence censorship cowardice contemptible condemnation diverted distilled discourse dictum dilate dilate exploitation honed insidious incriminate jargon melancholy muzzle objectivity odious olfactory perpetual phosphorescent philosophies profusion proclivities pulverized rarity refracted reckoning rigidity sieve stolid stagnant subconscious subaudible subside tactile titillation toil torrent transcription

Literary Term

allusion anti-hero characterization diction dystopia iront metaphor science fiction simile symbol theme

Idiom/Cultural Reference

Caesar Cesarean section Ecclesiastes and Revelation Little Black Sambo Praetorian Guard Uncle Tom’s Cabin Vesuvius centrifuge flue holier-than-thou minstrel man phoenix praying mantis pratfall status quo séance valise water under the bridge

Text-based

To see all the vocabulary for this course, view our 10th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Themes

In order to successfully teach this unit, you must be intellectually prepared at the highest level, which means reading and analyzing all unit texts before launching the unit and understanding the major themes the authors communicate through their texts. By the time your students finish reading this text, they should be able to articulate and explain the major themes the authors communicate through their texts related to the following thematic topics as they uncover them organically through reading, writing, and discourse. While there is no one correct thematic statement for each major topic discussed in the unit texts, there are accurate (evidence-based) and inaccurate (non–evidence-based) interpretations of what the authors are arguing. Below are some exemplar thematic statements.

  • Cancel Culture and Censorship: In Fahrenheit 451, books are banned, and as a result, they are burned in addition to the homes containing books. While this may seem absurd, Beatty informs Montag that books became phased out over time as people stopped reading. Fahrenheit 451 highlights the danger and complexity in censorship. As a result of censorship, individuals like Mildred lack history, culture, and authentic perspective about the world. 
  • Truth and Happiness: Throughout the novel, characters such as Mildred distract themselves from engaging with their true emotions by indulging in excessive amounts of TV and overdosing on pills. Bradbury highlights that the route to true happiness is only through engaging with the truth and difficult thoughts and experiences. 

Lesson Map

Standards

Core Standards

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L.9-10.1

L.9-10.1.a

L.9-10.1.b

L.9-10.3.a

L.9-10.4

LO 1.1A

LO 1.2A

LO 1.2B

LO 1.3A

LO 1.3B

LO 1.4A

LO 1.4B

LO 1.4B

LO 2.2A

LO 2.2B

LO 2.2C

LO 2.2E

LO 2.3A

LO 2.3B

LO 2.3C

LO 2.3D

LO 3.3A

LO 5.1A

LO 5.1B

RI.9-10.1

RI.9-10.2

RI.9-10.2

RI.9-10.5

RI.9-10.6

RL.9-10.1

RL.9-10.2

RL.9-10.3

RL.9-10.4

RL.9-10.5

RL.9-10.7

RL.9-10.9

SL.9-10.1

SL.9-10.2

W.9-10.1

W.9-10.1.a

W.9-10.1.b

W.9-10.1.c

W.9-10.1.d

W.9-10.1.e

W.9-10.2

W.9-10.2.a

W.9-10.2.b

W.9-10.2.c

W.9-10.2.d

W.9-10.2.e

W.9-10.2.f

W.9-10.7

W.9-10.8

W.9-10.9