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Course Hero. "Fahrenheit 451 Study Guide." August 10, 2016. Accessed June 6, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fahrenheit-451/.
Course Hero, "Fahrenheit 451 Study Guide," August 10, 2016, accessed June 6, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fahrenheit-451/.
Learn about Symbols in Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451 with Course Hero’s video study guide.
Symbols in Fahrenheit 451 are often clues to the culture and values of the futuristic society the novel portrays. Symbols sometimes have dual functions, suggesting what the world would be like if the society in which Montag lives is overthrown and replaced by another.
The book takes its title, Fahrenheit 451, from the temperature at which paper catches fire, a turning point between existing and ceasing to exist. Montag is also at a turning point. Will he change his life or will he burn under his society's brutal constrictions?
Fire is a dual element. A symbol of creation as well as destruction, sometimes both at once, it transforms whatever it comes in contact with. Fire depends for its identity on who uses it and for what purpose. Bradbury opens the novel by reversing readers' traditional expectations of fire. Instead of a threat from which people must be protected, fire is now a socially sanctioned means of maintaining social order, and firemen are meant to cleanse society of the dangerous influence of books by burning them. Instead of protecting society from fire, they protect society with fire.
But fire can also symbolize knowledge and human connection, light and warmth, as well as creativity. Late in the book, fire acts as a symbol of emotional warmth and hospitality. It is the book lovers' campfire that helps Montag find them and that they use to cook him dinner. Granger also discusses the symbol of the phoenix in the final section, as well, in which fire is symbolic of renewal. The phoenix burns, dies, and is reborn from the ashes, just as Montag and the other book lovers hope that their society, which has been destroyed, will reemerge in a new form.
The salamander is both a symbol of the firemen and the name of the firetrucks that the firemen drive to their burnings. Stories about salamanders and their association with fire go back thousands of years. The name means "fire within" in Persian. Some cultures believed salamanders were born in fire and could live in it. Others believed the salamander could vomit fire, like the flamethrowers the firemen use.
Throughout Fahrenheit 451 Mildred wears her Seashell Radio whenever possible. The radio provides citizens such as Mildred an escape from their lives. It also symbolizes the government's invasion and control of the lives of its citizens, providing a barrage of stimulation that continually distracts them from reality.
In Fahrenheit 451 instead of fighting fire to save lives and property, the firemen use it to destroy threats to the social order in the form of books. In this way the firemen symbolize the transformation from a humane society that values life to a dystopian one that values its ability to control and destroy.
Like the firemen, the Mechanical Hound is a perversion of a relationship that in a normal society has positive connotations. Dogs are one of the oldest domesticated animals, associated with loyalty, friendship, companionship, and protection. For hundreds of years, dogs lived in firehouses and accompanied firemen to fires.
The Mechanical Hound is not a living creature but a distortion of nature designed and programmed by the state. It is designed to sniff out nonconformists and kill them if necessary. Montag fears the Mechanical Hound for good reason. It treats him with suspicion from the beginning of the novel and turns on him once Montag strays from his assigned duties.