Bradbury’s Use of Symbolism in Dystopian Novel Fahrenheit 451

Literary devices are techniques of expression that authors use to convey meaning to their story. When used with proper skill, these devices can bring copiousness and clarity to the content (Duckart). Certain literary devices can be applied to both fiction and nonfiction books.

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This essay will show how Ray Bradbury, the author of Fahrenheit 451, uses symbolism throughout his novel to provide the reader with a better grasp at deeper understanding and meaning to his novel. More often than not, symbolisms are not obvious and are easily looked over; however, when analyzed in detail, they add new and important dimensions of meaning to the story line. There are many symbolisms used throughout Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, in this paper I will discuss his use of symbolism for fire, river, blood, hearth, sieve, phoenix and mechanical hound. Some of the fore mentioned symbols are very well known to those whom have read the novel more than once. To others, they are milder, which cause individuals to easily miss the connection upon an initial reading of the story. I know I missed many, if not all, literary devices when I was assigned the novel as a summer reading project before I began the eighth grade. Each of these symbolisms have a deeper meaning that we will discuss in greater detail throughout this paper.

Bradbury’s novel is based on books being burned, I felt it was only right to open my paper with the analyzation and discussion of Bradbury’s symbolism of fire, which is used throughout the entire novel. Bradbury opens his novel with an impressive thought that is sure to captivate many readers, ‘It was a pleasure to burn’ (1). Montag took pleasure to witness things burn. To see things blackened and change symbolizes darkness and eradication. The opening section characterizes the contentment Montag experiences while burning books. He is passionate of the extravaganza caused by burning and seeing properties change by the fire. So much to the point that he even has an adoration for the smell of kerosene, which he recounts to Clarisse, ‘Kerosene’, he said because the silence had lengthened, is nothing but perfume to me’ (3).

Fire is used to symbolize destruction; however, as the story line evolves, the meaning of the fire begins to shift from destruction which then leads to revival in the end (“SYMBOLISM AND THE DYSTOPIAN TRADITION IN RAY BRADBURY’S FAHRENHEIT 451”). Fires had previously been an enemy of mankind, but is now the dominant image of Montag’s life. Mr. Dolton, a writer at Read the World states that as Montag’s character evolves from beginning to end, so does too the meaning of the fire (Dolton). In the end, what once symbolized destruction translates to freedom, as Montag is freed from his oppressor, Beatty. He is also freed from the oppression of not being able to gain knowledge and read books. Moreover, although fire has two very different meaning for both halves of the book, there is also a meaning that fire takes upon for the entire book that does not change. In both parts of the novel fire is what helps and shelters the human race, at least which is what is supposed to be inferred.

In addition to the fire symbolism, a deeper connection and meaning is given to kerosene. During Montag’s first conversation with Clarisse, he mentions his satisfaction with the smell of kerosene, which he states can never seem to be washed off (3). This mention of kerosene can be a mild symbolism of the knowledge and humanity that Guy has destroyed, which according to Mr. Dolton cannot be washed away or forgotten. Additionally mentioned by Dr. Kipling, a current educator that has majored in Literature and History states that kerosene was a daily reminder to Guy Montag of all that he carries out a highly immoral function from which he cannot easily escape (Kipling).

Proceeding to the next of Bradbury’s selection of symbols, another that highly stood out to me in this novel is water. Water, just as fire carries varying meaning in real life, as well as in literature. The escape through the river symbolizes Montag’s liberation. Throughout the novel water is used to contrast fire and, in a way, to signify good and evil (Kipling). Rivers in some faiths or belief systems are ceremonially used for carriage in the afterlife, according to a google search I began at the start of my research. Additionally, water is used for baptisms in array of religions which is believed to cleanse one from sins. The river changes Montag. After floating for a prolonged period of time Montag has an epiphany, he realizes that he should never burn anew. He emerges from the river a man washed from his past. Montag is now liberated from the old chains and shackles of his former life. Additionally, the forest which the river flows through further indicates humanity before sophistication or its development (Dolton).

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