Books of Samad Behrangi are generally thought as children books by Turkish readers; accepted as a form of children literature.
Books of Samad Behrangi are generally thought as children books by Turkish readers; accepted as a form of children literature. However, in this article we will focus on the possibility of looking one of Behrangi’s stories from another perspective. Can Behrangi’s books really be evaluated as children books? Is it possible not to take The Little Black Fish into consideration as a child book? How can we evaluate the story as a critical text from an adult perspective?
In 2004, Çağan Irmak, a famous Turkish director, made a TV series called Çemberimde Gül Oya, in which he depicted the disordered, tense political situation of Turkey in 1980s. He dedicated the twelfth episode of this TV series to Samad Behrangi by saying “To Samad Behrangi, the storyteller of my childhood.” In this episode, The Little Black Fish was burned in the school garden in front of primary school students, because it was banned by the coup administration. When I watched that scene, I was also a primary school student. I was so heavily affected by it, so I decided to write about The Little Black Fish.
Throughout history people have faced different kinds of censorship. Broadly speaking, censorship can be defined as an obstacle to freedom of speech. This obstacle could be created officially by a government or it could be created by individuals who engage in censorship unofficially. We see the second type of censorship in the society of Fahrenheit 451. Turkish society at the time of 1980 military coup is a good example of the first type of censorship. In this period of Turkish history, The Little Black Fish was one of the many books that were banned. Therefore, by examining the similarities of both societies, we can understand why The Little Black Fish would also have been burned in the dystopian world of Fahrenheit 451.
The Little Black Fish is the story of a little fish whose main goal is to reach to huge blue sea despite all the conservative thought and restraint around it. It is written by Samad Behrangi, an Iranian author. In the book, the little fish is faced with many obstacles and threatening creatures; however, in the end, it manages to reach to sea. In the sea, it is caught by a heron, but before it is eaten, it kills the heron with a dagger. The narrator of the story, the grandmother of twelve thousand fish, ends the story by saying that nothing has been heard about the little fish again. As the story ends, 11,999 little fish go to sleep, but one little red fish stays awake, and thinks of the huge blue sea.
On September 12, 1980, a military coup was made in Turkey. Coup administration was composed of five generals. They closed the democratic mass organizations, political parties and unions. What is worse, they forbad thinking by taking authors, scientists, youngsters, employees and teachers into custody. These people were exposed to torture for several months, and arrested. Nearly 20,000 university students were rusticated. Press could not broadcast because of the suppression from martial rule. At that time, thirty nine tons written materials were destroyed. As Hasan Kıyafet, a writer of 1980s, noted in a Sanat Cephesi article on December, 2009; back then book was a bigger criminal evidence than weapon. He told that when soldiers were carrying out a search in a coach, there were a few books and weapons left. Soldiers made a fellow countryman choose between the books and weapons, and he chose a book. That choice caused grave trouble to the countryman. However, if he had chosen a weapon, he would do only six months in prison. As one clearly realizes, in the coup period the Turkish society was the evocative of the society of Fahrenheit 451 in certain aspects.
In Turkey, The Little Black Fish was first published in 1975, but as many other books; it was also banned at the time of military coup. A totalitarian regime was ruling over Turkey, since freedom of individuals was taken away by military. We cannot say with certainty that there is a totalitarian regime created by the government or military in Fahrenheit 451; however, we can say that the people themselves have established this kind of a regime through their own thoughts. In one of the first pages of Fahrenheit 451, when Clarisse asks Montag about the profession of firemen in the past, Montag brushes her over by saying “Houses have always been fireproof, take my word for it.” (Bradbury 6) By saying these sentences, Montag implies that the past was always as today, and the future will be as today too. There are also some sentences in The Little Black Fish that indicate the same adoption of totalitarianism. When the fish decides to go and find where the stream ends, its mother laughs, and says, “A stream has no beginning and no end. That is the way it is. The stream just flows, and never goes anywhere.” (Behrangi 12) Then she also says, “The world is right here where we are. Life is just as we have it” (14). From these quotations of the two books we can infer that both societies accept the established orders without critical examination.
In the military coup period of Turkish history, communism was one of the movements that were objected severely. The most obvious reason for the censorship of The Little Black Fish was that it tells the basic teachings of communism implicitly. Moreover, the author of the book, Samad Behrangi, was known as the Iranian communist author. Broadly speaking, the main principle of communism is to achieve social organization, and to have common property. At that time, The Little Black Fish was considered as “the most revolutionist fish of the world” by the readers; adversely, it was considered as a powerful political allegory by the coup administration. Behrangi chose the colors of the two fish as black and red intentionally. He did so, because black and red are the emblematic colors of communism. According to the communist, black is the color of mourning, and it means “Enemy is still alive.” As for red, it means “The blood of enemies would be our flag.”
When we look at Fahrenheit 451, there is also an objection to political movements. For example, when Montag and Mildred talk, he says, “We burned copies of Dante and Swift and Marcus Aurelius.” Then she asks, “Wasn’t he a radical?”, and Montag confirms her (47). Broadly speaking, the main aim of radicalism is to produce new reforms to change the political system substantially, to abolish titles, and to redistribute property. From this explanation we understand that communism and radicalism have certain similar aims. Moreover, in the further pages we see Beatty’s negative opinions about political decisions. He says, “If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.” (58) Therefore, The Little Black Fish would most probably be burned in the dystopian world of Fahrenheit 451.
In The Little Black Fish, the fish has courage and desire for knowledge contrary to age long ignorance and fear, even in the end they cost the fish its life. When we look from this perspective, we easily notice that this fish has many similarities with Clarisse. In the world of Fahrenheit 451, Clarisse is thought to be different, because she does not act as many people. Rather than learning “how”, she tries to learn “why”, just like the little black fish. However, her community wants to make everybody standard by eliminating people who are superior to them. By doing so, they try to be happy. In this fictional world of Fahrenheit 451, The Little Black Fish would probably be burned, because the people of this world would not want their children to read a book which encourages them to think about justice, equality, dogma, and opposition. Instead, they make their children sit in front of the ‘parlor walls’, and turn the switch in their limited time passing at home.
There is also another clue showing that child books are also burned in the world of Fahrenheit 451. When Montag and Beatty play cards, Montag asks, “What—was it always like this? The firehouse, our work? I mean, well, once upon a time…” (31) Beatty becomes surprised to hear “once upon a time” from Montag, and he gets angry. Then Montag remembers the last fire, in which he glances at a single line of a fairy tale before burning it. As we understand, they do not refrain from burning child books also.
One of the main goals of The Little Black Fish is to make children acquaint with the real lives of the poor, and their struggle against the hardship of their lives. It symbolically narrates the lives of young people who died in the prisons of totalitarian regimes, and then praised as martyrs. However, the society of Fahrenheit 451 wants to eliminate any book which may offend anybody. For them, thinking, and asking many questions end up with unhappiness. There is a war at the door; however, people are not interested in. Actually, they cannot realize the probable consequences of a war. They have enough access to food, but the rest of the world die because of malnutrition. Moreover, there is no tolerance for the difference created by minorities. Therefore, they would not want to read about the people who are exposed to hardship because of their thoughts.
As I have briefly mentioned before, at the time of military coup, the coup administration did not have any tolerance for intellectual people in the Turkish society. There was no tolerance, because they knew well that only brave people could save their community from loosing individuality. In its underwater world, the little fish shows the necessary courage, able to reach to huge blue sea, and open way to new critical thinkers at the expense of its life. Its statement, “Of course, if someday I should be forced to face death- as I shall- it does not matter. What does matter is the influence that my life or death will have on the lives of others.” (Behrangi 45), is the best example for its bravery.
In Fahrenheit 451, Professor Faber also makes a similar statement with the little black fish. He says, “Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shor.” (Bradbury 82). However, he does not take action, because he abstains from what will happen to him in the chaotic situation of the society. If he had enough courage, he would help Montag, and they could save their community from being absent-minded creatures. Coup administration in the history of Turkey is a real example that struggled hard to clear away a book, which seems as simple as a child book at first glance. They struggled hard, because they could not put up with people having courage to question established order. Therefore, comparing both societies, it is not difficult to assume that the society of Fahrenheit 451 also would not hesitate to burn The Little Black Fish for the sake of feeling happy.
In short, Bradbury’s fictional world is not necessarily an exaggerated one. Maybe it is not exactly the same, but in 1980, the Turkish society was also affected by a similar censorship. We were able to get over these years of shame, but the negative memories of the coup period have always been with us. Therefore, people should be open-minded to guarantee their future for not experiencing this kind of a period again. They should choose between becoming a phoenix, which does not learn anything from its mistakes and goes over and over again to fire or becoming like migrant birds, which take turn from one another to share knowledge, and experience.
Atay, Bahadir and Avsar, Sükrü. Çemberimde Gül Oya. Avsar Film. 12. TV series, 2004.
Behrangi, Samad. The Little Black Fish. Istanbul: Can Art Press, 2012.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc, 2012.
“Communism,” Wikipedia. 27/06/22. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communism.
Firinci, Cansu. “Hasan Kiyafet ile Yasakli Kitaplar Üzerine Röportaj”. Sanat Cephesi 34. 12/12/2009. https://cansufirinci.wordpress.com/2010/01/10/hasan-kiyafet-ile-yasakli-kitaplar-uzerine-roportaj-cansu-firinci/
“Political Radicalism,” Wikipedia. 27/06/22. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_radicalism.
 Actually, the text you will be reading in a few seconds is excerpted from the final paper of Rhetoric and Composition for Translators course that I took in 2013, in the department of Translation & Interpreting Studies at Boğaziçi University. Professor Martin Cyr Hicks demanded us to read Fahrenheit 451 critically and write the final paper about a book that would probably be burned in the dystopian world of Fahrenheit 451. With a personal interest, I decided to write about The Little Black Fish.