AP English 4
21 March 2006
Analysis of Metaphors and Symbols in Fahrenheit 451
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury takes the reader to a time where firemen do not put out fires; they start them in order to burn books, because books and intelligent thinking is outlawed. By using a combination of metaphors and symbols in this novel, Bradbury deepens the intricacy of his central them that censorship and too much government control is dangerous, and men should be able to think and come up with their own ideas and opinions.
The story of the fireman Guy Montag first appears in a short story by Bradbury called â€œThe Firemanâ€ in 1951. Two years later, he expanded the story, which became Fahrenheit 451. The novel is often classified as a science fiction novel, but first and foremost it is a social criticism warning about the dangers of censorship and government control. Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 after World War II and not only criticizes the lack of intellectualism of the German Nazis, but also the oppressive atmosphere of the early 1950s, when McCarthyism was at its peak. Bradbury used this novel to protest against the strict control of the books the editors would print, because he believed that it distorted the writersâ€™ originality. Fahrenheit 451 is Bradburyâ€™s most popular work, and the theme of the
dangers of censorship and government control is as relevant today as the day he wrote it, even though while he wrote the novel â€œhe was attempting to prevent the world from heading in the downhill direction it seemed to be goingâ€ (Hoskins 134). Richard Windman backs up that idea:
By drawing comparisons between the firemenâ€™s actions in Fahrenheit 451 and attacks on contemporary real world authors and publishers of controversial subject matter, the fictional world that Bradbury portrayed is now real- the types of dangers Bradburyâ€™s novel warned about- already threaten todayâ€™s supposedly democratic society. (149)
Metaphors in Fahrenheit 451 deepen the major theme and make this novel so fascinating. Some of the human metaphors of novel are Montag, Faber, and Beatty. The metaphor of the name Montag is that it is also the name of a paper manufacturing company, and in many ways Guy Montag is just that; a blank piece of paper. He is â€œwritten onâ€ by many different characters and experiences throughout the novel. Donald Watt agrees with that because he says â€œhis meeting with Clarisse teaches him to be aware of life or the lack of it - around him, and his wifeâ€™s brush with death, and the way she is saved, exposes for Montag the pitiable state of individual existence in their societyâ€ (â€œThe Use of Fire as a Multifaceted Symbolâ€ 47). After Montags meeting Clarisse he goes back to his home where he â€œquickly realizes that he is not happy with his sterile and fully automatic houseâ€ (Zipes 128). Granger and Faber also influence Montag, as well as the old woman. Watt says â€œthe stunning experience with the old woman at
11 North Elm demonstrates for Montag the possibility of defiance and the power of booksâ€ (â€œThe Use of Fire as a Multifaceted Symbolâ€ 47). This experience with the woman causes Montag to bring a book home and question what is so powerful about books that make a woman want to stay in her burning house. Faberâ€™s name is also the name of a pencil manufacturing company. So Faber, who instructs Montag and guides him in his search for the truth, â€œwritesâ€ on Montag, the â€œpaperâ€. In this way Faber is metaphorically the instrument of knowledge. Another human metaphor in this novel is the man in charge of the firemen, Captain Beatty. He is a metaphor for the brains behind government censorship. All the other firemen are ignorant to what they are doing, as are the people who live in the city, but Beatty is well aware of the truth and still goes on with the instructions to burn and destroy knowledge.
Three metaphors in the novel are a form of government or control. The government uses the seashells, or ear radios, to further its plan. Using these shells causes the people to lose sight of reality. The parlor family, otherwise known as a television, is used by the government to distract the people and keep them satisfied. Like the seashells, the parlor family is just another one of the governments distractions to occupy a mans mind. The last example of the government metaphors is the mechanical hound. The government uses the hound to enforce the laws and to punish whoever breaks them. The hound represents the strong hand of dictatorship and enforces the government policy.
Many metaphors that have not been covered yet, such as the salamander, the Sieve and Sand, nature, fire, the phoenix, and poison, also add to the meaning of the theme. The salamander represents the firemen in the novel Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury uses the Salamander to demonstrate the weak character of the government. The society in the novel has sunk so low, like a salamander. The title of chapter two in the novel, The Sieve and Sand, is used by Bradbury to explain Montags goal to learn the knowledge he reads in books. Ray Bradbury writes about a childhood experience of Montags:
Once as a child he had sat upon a yellow dune by the sea in the middle of the blue and hot summer day, trying to fill a sieve with sand, because some cruel cousin had said, â€œFill this sieve and youâ€™ll get a dime!â€ And the faster he poured, the faster it sifted through with a hot whispering. His hands were tired, the sand was boiling, the sieve was empty. (106)
Like sand falling through a crack/sieve, Montag believes that if he reads the books fast enough, he will be able to retain some of the knowledge before it is all gone. Throughout his novel, Bradbury uses the metaphor of nature to take the place of reality or truth. Ray Bradbury writes that After Montag floats down the river to escape the city; he gets his sense of smell back, and remembers that a world outside of the city exists:
Millie was not here and the Hound was not here, but the dry smell of hay blowing from some distant field put Montag on the land. He
remembered a farm he had visited when he was youngâ€¦he discovered that somewhere behind the seven veils of unreality, beyond the wall of the parlors and beyond the tin moat of the city, cows chewed grass and pigs sat in warm ponds at noon and dogs barked after white sheep on a hill. (167)
The people who live in nature also live in truth/reality. Fire is an important metaphor in this novel. The reader can tell from the very beginning how big a role fire will play. â€œIt was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changedâ€ (Bradbury 5). Fire is used as a substitute for the reality of truth, which can only be found in books. Beatty becomes a book burner and dedicates his life to the fire when he cannot find satisfaction in books. Another crucial metaphor is the Phoenix. Peter Sisario states that the phoenix is a key metaphor in the novel:
The major metaphor in the novel, which supports the idea of the natural cycle, is the phoenix, the mythical bird of ancient Egypt that burned itself to death and resurrected from its ashes. This image of the Phoenix is used in the novel in association with the minor character Captain Beatty, Montags superior. It is crucial that Beatty wears the sign of the phoenix on his hat and rides in a â€œphoenix
carâ€. Appropriately, Beatty is burned to death, and his death by fire
illustrates the rebirth that is associated with his Phoenix sign. When Guy kills Beatty, he is faced to run off and joins Granger; this action is for Guy, a rebirth to a new intellectual life. (50)
Although the phoenix is used in association with Beatty, it also describes Montags rebirth as Sisario said. Part of Montags rebirth is his going to Faber with ideas to save the books, and his saving books in his own house and reading them. Montag even goes as far as stealing books from houses that he is supposed to be setting on fire. In the end of the book Granger refers to the phoenix again when he talks about the city being blown up:
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. (Bradbury 188)
The last metaphor to be discussed is poison. David Seed states, â€œ the metaphor of poison encodes Montags dissonance within the ideology of a regime devoted to maintaining the so-called health of the body politicâ€ (91).
Donald Watt believes that symbols are a very important element in the novel Fahrenheit 451:
In Bradbury opening pages the reader can detect through symbols which Montag draws out of his surroundings, a dawning awareness of his real psychic being pulsing beneath the rubble of his society. Bradbury has meticulously selected his symbols at the beginning of the book, for he will return to them and develop them to give
Fahrenheit 451 inner coherence, unity, and depth of meaningâ€. (â€œBurning Bright: Fahrenheit 451 as a Symbolic Distopiaâ€ 201)
The titles of the first two chapters are symbolic in themselves. The Hearth and the Salamander has two symbols in it. A hearth is another name for a fireplace, which is a symbol for the home, and a salamander is one of the official symbols of the firemen, as well as the name they give to their fire trucks. Both of these symbols have to do with fire. The hearth symbolizes fire because it contains the fire that heats a home, and the salamander because of ancient beliefs that it lives in fire and is unaffected by flames. The Sieve in the Sand, which is also a
metaphor in the novel, has two symbols in it as well. The sand symbolizes the
real truth Montag seeks, and the sieve symbolizes the human mind seeking a truth that remains intangible. Fire is another important symbol in the novel. Donald Watt believes that â€œBradbury gives his story impact and imaginative focus by means of a symbolic fireâ€¦Bradburyâ€™s symbolic fire gives unity, as well as
stimulating depth to Fahrenheit 451â€ (â€œThe Use of Fire as a Multifaceted Symbolâ€
197). Books are a symbol of knowledge and wisdom in the novel. John Hunington states that â€œ the novel urges that books- a symbol of old, positive values- must be preserved to prevent the horrors of the mindless futureâ€ (107). Blood appears throughout the novel as a symbol of a humanâ€™s repressed soul. Montag often feels his thoughts circulating in his blood and Mildred, whose individuality has been lost, remains unchanged when her poisoned blood is replaced with fresh blood by the Electric-Eyed Snake machine. Bradbury uses
the machine to reveal Mildredâ€™s corrupted insides and the self-hatred within her. The Snakeâ€™s replacement of her blood â€œseemed to have done a new thing to herâ€ (Bradbury 46). but could not rejuvenate her soul. Her poisoned, replaceable blood symbolizes the lifelessness of Mildred and others like her. The last symbol to be discussed is the use of mirrors. â€œIn Fahrenheit 451 Bradbury uses mirrors both real and metaphorical to illustrate Guy Montags growing impulse for self examination. As he learns more about himself, Montag also finds mirrors in the characters of the other people in his lifeâ€ (McGiveron 55). Clarrise and Millie are both examples of characters that are mirrors for Montag. A mirror is used to
examine ones self and ones appearance, which is exactly what Clarrise does for Montag. Montag mentions two times that Clarrise is like a mirror and that he can see himself in her eyes. Clarrise reflects truth upon Montag when he sees her, which otherwise, Montag would not be able to see. Millie is a mirror of the horrible society that Montag lives in, but Montag is so used to her that he is ignorant to the reflection in her.
After examining the novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, many metaphors and symbols can be found. Donald Watt believes that â€œWhat is distinctive about Fahrenheit 451 as a work of literature, then, is not what Bradbury says, but how he says itâ€ (â€œThe Use of Fire as a Multifaceted Symbolâ€ 45). Without these two elements the whole novels theme would not be as impacting or deep.