Study Guide

Fahrenheit 451 Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Ray Bradbury

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Fire, Heat, Light

As you might expect from a novel about burning books, there’s a whole lot of fire in Fahrenheit 451. We’re not just talking about the burning houses, either. When people are angry, they’re burning with rage inside. When Montag senses Clarisse’s presence, it’s because he feels body heat. When Granger and Co. pick themselves up after the bombing, we get the image of a phoenix rising up from the ashes. This imagery is all over the place.

Fire seems to mean a lot of different things at different moments in Fahrenheit 451. Beatty and his fireman minions use it to destroy. But the woman whose house they burn interprets it another way: "Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out." For her, it represents strength. Montag himself discovers an alternative use for fire at the end of the novel, when he realizes that it can warm instead of destroy. Like that whole cycle of life thing, fire has a constructive and destructive half. And like the books that are burned, each character in the novel is forced to interpret for themselves and confront contradictory perspectives – just like Beatty said about the books.

Insects and Other Unpleasant Animals

There are several references throughout Fahrenheit 451 to essentially yucky animals an insects (that’s the technical term). When Mildred gets her stomach pumped, the machine is like a snake. The earpiece she wears at night is like a praying mantis. The helicopters in the chase scene are described as insects. Even the Mechanical Hound has eight legs, like a spider. Notice a pattern here? These references all have to do with technology – destructive technology that the government uses to control its citizens. It’s basically a perversion of nature and of the natural order, which fits into the larger themes of Fahrenheit 451 (because in this world of destruction without construction, the natural order is off).

Getting Naked in the River

We thought that would get your attention. When the chase draws to a close, Montag ditches his clothes, bathes in the river, and dons Faber’s attire instead. For a man who’s been through three or more identity crises, this is significant. He’s leaving the old Montag behind, cleansing himself of his old identity, and assimilating a new one for the time being (Faber’s). The fact that another man is captured and killed in Montag’s place is a great ancillary to this moment.