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 are burned physically, and 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. That is what he is speaking out against. Bradbury incorporates symbolism into his book. He expresses it through the symbols the hearth and the salamander, the phoenix, and the great fire. Bradbury’s use of symbolism throughout the novel makes the book moving and powerful.
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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, a small lizard-like amphibian, and also in mythology, is known to withstand 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. On the other hand, ironically, the other firemen believed that they were salamanders too because they thought they were immune to the all might flames, when in the end it were the flames that destroyed them.
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.” 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. Guy’s life is a cycle of getting burnt, then coming alive once again, and then being burnt.
Until one time the Phoenix survives and flies away (Montage flees to woods), or the Phoenix dies in the flames, never to be reborn again (where Montag kills Capt. Beatty by burning 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.”
Fire is another great example of symbolism. Each of us has our own image of fire burning within us, and depending on who you are, it could be positive or negative. Fire has a dual image in the book, a symbol of destruction, and a symbol of warmth. For Montag, fire has been good to serve the purpose of being a fireman. Fire has become a symbol of good in Montag’s mind, and a solution to all problems. Capt. Beatty has taught Guy that fire is the solution to everything. When in reality, fire destroyed books, it destroyed homes, it destroyed people, it destroyed Capt. Beatty, it destroyed Montag’s house, and in the end, it destroyed the city from which Montag barely escaped. But fire has become an image of destruction in the eyes of Montag. “If you can’t solve it… burn it!” Is the single statement that can be made about Guy’s thoughts of fire, before his “rebirth.? However, fire also symbolizes something else, warmth, goodness.
It is not until the very end that Guy realizes that fire does not have to be destructive. I t can be good, and provide you with warmth, and security. He associates fire with good when he meets the rest of the escapees, in the secret camp, because they are all sitting around a campfire sharing ideas, and reading. The campfire is no longer threating, it is providing warmth for them. They are memorizing the books and passing them along by word of mouth. Then they are place the books in the campfire, and let their powers be released. By burning the books, they are remembering them, and protecting them from the fire of the firemen.
Symbolism added to the power and overall affect behind this book. The novel uses symbols such as the heath and the salamander, the phoenix, and the fire to describe someone or something. Perhaps this novel, written in the early 1950’s, spoke out against the future, and spoke out against censorship, but one thing is for sure, we must always attempt to better ourselves with knowledge, and always form our own ideas. If we do, then we will have gotten the message of Ray Bradbury. “There is no knowledge that is not power… And all our lives we must search for power, and in that search, we gain knowledge.”
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