Fahrenheit 451: Symbolism


Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury is a futuristic novel, taking the reader to a time where books and thinking are outlawed. In a time so dreadful where those who want to better themselves by thinking, and by reading are outlaws as well. Books and ideas are burned, books are burned physically, where as ideas are burned from the mind. Bradbury uses literary devices, such as symbolism, but it is the idea he wants to convey that makes this novel so devastating. Bradbury warns us of what may happen if we stop expressing our ideas, and we let people take away our books, and thoughts. Bradbury notices what has been going on in the world, with regards to censorship, and book burning in Germany, and McCarthyism in America. That is what he is speaking out against. Bradbury is also a very symbolic writer, he incorporates symbolism into his book. Bradbury's use of symbolism throughout the novel makes the book moving and powerful by using symbolism to reinforce the ideas of anti-censorship.

The Hearth and the Salamander, the title of part one, is the first example of symbolism. The title suggests two things having to do with fire, the hearth is a source of warmth and goodness, showing the positive, non-destructive side of fire. Whereas a salamander is a small lizard-like amphibian, and also in mythology, is known to endure fire without getting burnt by it. Perhaps the salamander is symbolic of Guy Montag, who is being described as a salamander because he works with fire, and endures it, but believes that he can escape the fire and survive, much like a salamander does. On the other hand, it is ironic that Guy, and the other firemen believe themselves to be salamanders because both Capt. Beatty's and Montag's destruction comes from the all mighty flame, from which they thought they were invincible.

The symbol of a Phoenix is used throughout the novel. This quote accurately describes the Phoenix, "It is known to be a mythical multi-colored bird of Arabia, with a long history of artistic and literary symbolism, the Phoenix is one of a kind. At the end of its five-hundred-year existence, it perches on its nest of spices and sings until sunlight ignites the masses. After the body is consumed in flames, a worm emerges and develops into the next Phoenix."(24, Cliffs' Notes on Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451) The Phoenix symbolizes the rebirth after destruction by fire, only to get burnt, and be destroyed again. Firemen wear the Phoenix on their uniforms, and Capt. Beatty symbolically drives a Phoenix car. Montag, after reaching the realization that fire and destruction has indeed destroyed him, wishes to be "reborn". As part of his "rebirth", he goes to Faber with ideas to save the books, and he hides books in his house. Montag even goes as far as stealing books from houses that he is supposed to be destroying. But a Phoenix is "reborn" only to get burnt and destroyed, again. Guy's life is a cycle of getting burnt, then coming alive once again, then being burnt, until one time the Phoenix survives and flies away (where Montag goes to the "escapee" camp), or the Phoenix dies in the flames, never to be reborn again(where Montag kills Capt. Beatty by igniting him with the liquid fire). At the end of the book, Granger makes reference to the Phoenix once more by talking about the city going up in flames in the bomb blast."There was a silly damn bird called a Phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up. He must have been first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself, up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we're doing the same thing, over and over, but we've got one damn thing the Phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we've done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, some day we'll stop making goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them. We pick up a few more people that remember every generation." (163)

Fire is another great example of symbolism. Each of us has our own image of fire