Study Guide

Fahrenheit 451 Man and the Natural World

By Ray Bradbury

Man and the Natural World

Part One: The Hearth and the Salamander
Clarisse McClellan

"I'm still crazy. The rain feels good. I love to walk in it.

"I don't think I'd like that," he said.

"You might if you tried."

"I never have."

She licked her lips. "Rain even tastes good." (1.164-8)

Clarisse is a foil to Beatty; she represents nature while he stands for technology and modernization.

"Bet I know something else you don't. There's dew on the grass in the morning."

He suddenly couldn't remember if he had known this or not, and it made him quite irritable.

"And if you look"—she nodded at the sky—"there's a man in the moon."

He hadn't looked for a long time. (1.50-3)

Clarisse instigates Montag’s rebellion not by telling him what to think, but by inviting him to think.

Without turning on the light he imagined how this room would look. His wife stretched on the bed, uncovered and cold, like a body displayed on the lid of a tomb, her eyes fixed to the ceiling by invisible threads of steel, immovable. And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind. The room was indeed empty. Every night the waves came in and bore her off on their great tides of sound, floating her, wide-eyed, toward morning. There had been no night in the last two years that Mildred had not swum that sea, had not gladly gone down in it for the third time. (1.76)

The fact that this listening device is called a "Seashell" is ironic – it’s far from natural, and is in fact an element of the machinery which opposes nature in this novel.

Part Two: The Sieve and the Sand

"Yet somehow we think we can grow, feeding on flowers and fireworks, without completing the cycle back to reality. Do you know the legend of Hercules and Antaeus, the giant wrestler, whose strength was incredible so long as he stood firmly on the earth? But when he was held, rootless, in mid-air, by Hercules, he perished easily. If there isn't something in that legend for us today, in this city, in our time, then I am completely insane. Well, there we have the first thing I said we needed. Quality, texture of information." (2.130)

Again we see the dichotomy of nature and technology ever-present in the novel. Books represent nature because they are investigations into natural life.

Professor Faber

"No, no, it's not books at all you're looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us. " (2.128)

Did you notice that Montag doesn’t stop to think until he’s floating in a river? Exactly – Faber’s words here are proven later in the text.

Part Three: Burning Bright

He was three hundred yards downstream when the Hound reached the river. Overhead the great racketing fans of the helicopters hovered. A storm of light fell upon the river and Montag dived under the great illumination as if the sun had broken the clouds. He felt the river pull him further on its way, into darkness. Then the lights switched back to the land, the helicopters swerved over the city again, as if they had picked up another trail. They were gone. The Hound was gone. Now there was only the cold river and Montag floating in a sudden peacefulness, away from the city and the lights and the chase, away from everything. He felt as if he had left a stage behind and many actors. He felt as if he had left the great seance and all the murmuring ghosts. He was moving from an unreality that was frightening into a reality that was unreal because it was new he was a thing of brush and liquid. (3.226)

Fahrenheit 451 is the battleground for a war between nature and technology. Here we see that Montag identifies with natural, almost primitive elements of identity more than with calculated, machine-like qualities.

He touched it, just to be sure it was real. He waded in and stripped in darkness to the skin, splashed his body, arms, legs, and head with raw liquor; drank it and snuffed some up his nose. Then he dressed in Faber's old clothes and shoes. He tossed his own clothing into the river and watched it swept away. Then, holding the suitcase, he walked out in the river until there was no bottom and he was swept away in the dark. (3.225)

Notice that it is the river which cleanses Montag of his old smell, his old identity. Getting in touch with nature, as cheesy as that sounds, is his saving grace against the machinery of the government.

"Yes, I believe that, if there's nothing else I believe. It saved itself up to happen. I could feel it for a long time, I was saving something up, I went around doing one thing and feeling another. God, it was all there. It's a wonder it didn't show on me, like fat. And now here I am, messing up your life. They might follow me here." (3.152)

There is something unnatural about the way man is forced to live in the world of Fahrenheit 451. Montag, sensing this, rebels against these restrictions.

Captain Beatty

"What is there about fire that's so lovely? No matter what age we are, what draws us to it?" Beatty blew out the flame and lit it again. "It's perpetual motion; the thing man wanted to invent but never did. Or almost perpetual motion. If you let it go on, it'd burn our lifetimes out. What is fire? It's a mystery. Scientists give us gobbledegook about friction and molecules. But they don't really know. Its real beauty is that it destroys responsibility and consequences. A problem gets too burdensome, then into the furnace with it. Now, Montag, you're a burden. And fire will lift you off my shoulders, clean, quick, sure; nothing to rot later. Antibiotic, aesthetic, practical." (3.20)

Fire should be an element of the natural world, but it has been appropriated by man for solely destructive purposes.

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