Ray Bradbury and the “Tower of Babel,” or Why Great Literature is Good for Nothing


  • Jeffrey Kahan University of La Verne




Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, literacy, bardic tradition, narratology


The idea that sci-fi, at least good sci-fi, has a thinly veiled social message, that it is always addressing the now, naturally suggests that Fahrenheit 451 has a utilitarian message for its readers. That message seems straightforward enough: reading imaginative literature is good for us and good for society. This message, however, is negated by Bradbury’s own statements on literature: “The fact is, any literature whose function it is to teach, ceases to be literature as such; it becomes didactic literature, which is the color of another horse. When literature becomes obsessed by ideas as such, it is no longer literature.” While literature may have no utility, no social value, Bradbury speculates that without art, humans inevitably create a market-driven, media-dominated culture, a “nice blend of vanilla tapioca,” in which no one makes any great impression. Great literature nullifies and transcends the ordered and the ordinary; it is good for nothing because it negates everything.

Author Biography

Jeffrey Kahan, University of La Verne

Jeffrey is the author of many books, including Reforging Shakespeare (Associated University Presses, 1998), The Cult of Kean (Ashgate, 2006), Caped Crusaders 101: Composition Through Comic Books (McFarland, 2006; 2nd ed., rev. and enl. 2010), Bettymania and the Birth of Celebrity Culture (Lehigh University Press, 2010), Shakespiritualism: Shakespeare and the Occult, 1850-1950 (Palgrave, 2013), The Quest for Shakespeare (Palgrave, 2017), Shakespeare and Superheroes (Arc, 2018), and Why We Need Superheroes (McFarland, 2022). He works in California but lives in his own world.




How to Cite

Kahan, J. (2023). Ray Bradbury and the “Tower of Babel,” or Why Great Literature is Good for Nothing. The New Ray Bradbury Review, (7), 17–33. https://doi.org/10.18060/27568