In addition to his full-length novels, Ray Bradbury wrote many short stories. “The Golden Apples Of The Sun” is a compilation of 22 stories that were originally published from 1945 to 1957. One story that falls right in the middle of this time is “The Great Wide World Over There”.
Cora is a woman whose life is a monotonous routine. She cooks, cleans, and takes care of her husband Tom. She rarely leaves home. Their nephew Benji comes to visit them for the summer. Cora is in awe of Benji, as he knows how to read and write, unlike herself and Tom. She spends a glorious summer with Benji, listening to him read aloud and watching him write. They send off letters, and start receiving letters in the new mailbox that Tom builds. The story starts off so well, but ends oh so sadly.
I listened to this book on the “Levar Burton Reads” podcast. For many years, Mr. Burton brought children’s books to life by reading them aloud on PBS’s television program “Reading Rainbow”. In June of 2017, he again began reading aloud, this time to an adult audience through his podcast. There was some musical accompaniment in the background that enriched the experience, but honestly, Mr. Burton is such a fine narrator that he didn’t really need anything extra.
“The Great Wild World Over There” is the story of ordinary people like Cora, who are given the opportunity to explore more of their world, but somehow manage to miss the boat.
It’s a world where books are forbidden. Too dangerous to be allowed, the government says. They lead to opposing thoughts, discontent, and strife. Better to not have any books. If a citizen is caught in possession of even one, the punishment is swift and severe: their house is immediately burned to the ground by the fire department. The government keeps everyone busy by offering mindless entertainment in every home on wall-size televisions. Everyone watches the same things, likes the same things, and talks about the same things. Some people even sleep with shell-like headphones on that keep the entertainment going while they sleep. With the non-stop noise and meaningless chatter, there is no time for people to actually think.
Guy Montag, one of the local firemen, has always accepted what he was told about books being dangerous to society. But one day something happens on the job to make him question if what he is doing is morally right. This awakening of his conscience alarms his wife Mildred. His boss at the firehouse is also worried, and makes a home visit to straighten him out. But once Guy puts aside the propaganda he was raised on, and begins to examine society and his own actions, it is impossible to go back to his normal life.
I loved the character of Guy. He was trying so hard to be a dependable worker, a loyal citizen, a devoted husband (even though his wife didn’t seem to give a hoot about him), and a good neighbor. You can feel the agony of his struggle to figure out what is right and what is wrong. As the story goes on, Guy finds a new purpose in life, and learns that fire can have many meanings.
This is some of the best dystopian fiction ever written, and is as relevant today as it was 66 years ago, when it was written.