Symbolism in Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury, perhaps one of the best-known science fiction, wrote the amazing novel Fahrenheit 451. The novel is about Guy Montag, a ‘fireman’ who produces fires instead of eliminating them in order to burn books (Watt 2). One night while he is walking home from work he meets a young girl who stirs up his thoughts and curiosities like no one has before. She tells him of a world where fireman put out fires instead of starting them and where people read books and think for themselves (Allen 1).
At a bookhouse, a woman chooses to burn and die with her books and afterwards Montag begins to believe that there is something truly amazing in books, something so amazing that a woman would kill herself for (Allen 1). At this point in the story Guy begins to read and steal books to rebel against society (Watt 2). Montag meets a professor named Faber and they conspire together to steal books. Montag soon turns against the authorities and flees their deadly hunting party in a hasty, unpremeditated act of homicide, and escapes the country (Watt 2).
The novel ends as Montag joins a group in the county where each person becomes and narrates a book but for some strange reason refuses to interpret it (Slusser 63). Symbolism is involved in many aspects of the story. In Fahrenheit 451Ray Bradbury employs various significant symbols through his distinct writing style. First, burning is an important symbol in the novel. The beginning of Fahrenheit 451 begins with, “it was a pleasure to burn. It was a pleasure to see things blackened and changed” (3).
Burning rouses the “consequences of unharnessed technology and contemporary man’s contented refusal to acknowledge these consequences” (Watt 1). In these first two sentences he creates a sense of curiosity and irony because in the story change is something controlled and unwanted by the government and society, so it is very unlikely that anything in Guy Montag’s society could be changed. The burning described at this point represents the constructive energy that later leads to “apocalyptic catastrophe” which are the “polls” of the novel (Watt 1).
At one instance, after Montag rebels, he tells Beatty something very important, “we never burned right…” (119). In his personal thoughts, Montag reminds himself, “burn them or they’ll burn you…Right now it’s as simple as that…”(123). What, whether, and how to burn are the issues in the novel (Watt 1). In an interesting thought Montag comes upon an idea about burning that states “the sun burnt every day. It burnt time…So if he burnt things with the firemen and the sun burnt Time, that meant that everything burnt!
One of them had to stop burning” (141). Secondly, Fire is a greatly important element of symbolism in Fahrenheit 451. Fire consumes minds, spirits, men, ideas, and books (McNelly 3). Fire’s importance is put at the beginning of the book when a clear picture of firemen is first seen and the narrator says, 'With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black” (3).
Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which books burn and is symbolically written on the firemen’s helmets, tanks, and in the firestation. Faber represents the “quiet, nourishing flame” of the imaginative spirit while in contrast, Beatty symbolizes the destroying function of fire (Watt 2). Fire, Montag’s reality and world, refines and purifies his mind and also gives unity and depth to the story (McNelly 3). Montag interprets his experiences in terms of fire (Watt 2). In Montag’s society the fireman’s torch has become a flame of reason (Slusser 63).
Scientists also consider fire a “mystery” in the novel (115). Fire is a consequential symbol in the story. Thirdly, the Mechanical Hound is a meaningful symbol. The narrator describes the hound as follows, “the Mechanical Hound slept but did not sleep, lived but did not live…it was like a great bee come home from some field where the honey is full of poison wildness, of insanity and nightmare, its body crammed with that overrich nectar, and now it was sleeping the evil out of itself” (24).
At the beginning of the novel, Montag greatly fears the hound and says, “it doesn’t like me”(26), but towards the end of the novel he overcomes his fear and kills it. The Mechanical Hound represents the fear of government that the state has instilled upon the people of their futuristic society. The hound has no emot ions and its purpose in being is to make one afraid or to kill someone. The Mechanical Hound is Bradbury’s chief image of technology (Wolfe 70). In addition to fire, burning, and the hound, Montag’s hands become another consequential and reoccurring symbol in the novel.
At the beginning of the novel, Montag’s “self-aggrandizing” hands are a reflection of his emptiness (McGiveron 1). When Montag steals two books the narrator describes what has happened as, “Montag had done nothing. His hand had done it all, his hand, with a brain of its own, with a conscience and a curiosity in each trembling finger, had turned thief” (37). Montag reflects his conscience and curiosity through his hands and now his hands reflect his nervousness at his new possible discovery (McGiveron 1-2).
When Montag shows Faber the Bible and then “his hands by themselves, like two men working together, began to rip the pages from the book. The hands tore the fly-leaf and then the first and then the second page” (88). Montag’s hands are expressing his conscience; he does not wish to damage the Bible, but his sub-conscience understands that Faber’s help is more important (McGiveron 1). Montag’s sub-conscience drives his hands into action before his conscious mind has reasoned what is going on (McGiveron 2).
Later, the symbolism of hands is shown again when Montag first steals a book and “In Beatty’s sight, Montag felt the guilt of his hands. His fingers were like ferrets that had done some evil and now never rested…these were the hands that had acted on their own, no part of him, here was where the conscience first manifested itself to snatch books…these hands seemed gloved with blood” (105). Here, Bradbury significantly uses the word conscience to show that Montag is still having trouble taking responsibility for his actions (McGiveron 2).
When Beatty gives Montag the option to burn down his house and they begin arguing, Montag “twitched the safety catch on the flamethrower…Beatty’s reaction to the hands gave him the final push toward murder…” (119). Again, Montag’s conscience goes through the act with his hands before his mind has figured out what is going on (McGiveron 2). Montag’s first image of the group he later joins shows “many hands held to its (the campfire’s) warmth, hands without arms, hidden with darkness” (145).
In this group each person becomes a book and each narrates his book, but out of some unusual apprehension of the fatal intellect, refuses to interpret it (Slusser 63). Montag realizes a part of the future that “someday…it’ll come out of our hands and mouths…” (161). This quotation means that one day good will come out of thinking, talking, and especially doing (McGiveron 3). Through Bradbury’s imagery and symbolism of hands he seems to recommend that actions do in fact speak louder than words (McGiveron 3).
In conclusion, symbolism is a greatly significant element in the novel. A symbol is something that stands for or represents something else. Fahrenheit 451 “probes in symbolic terms the puzzling, divisive nature of man as a creative/destructive creature” (Watt 1). A large number of symbols arising from fire emit various “illuminations on future and contemporary man” (Watt 2). The symbols in the novel add much insight and depth to the storyline. Ray Bradbury uses various consequential symbols such as fire, burning, the Mechanical Hound, and hands in Fahrenheit 451.