Monday, November 3, 2008
In Bardbury's novel Fahrenheit 451 there are many major symbols used throughout the course of the plot, the most illustrious of which, is fire. In the beginning of the novel, fire is used as a means of suppression, a form by which the government can cleanse all of the impurities from their society, the largest of which being books. The title of the first section, 'The Hearth and the Salamander" shows Montag's characterization with fire at the beginning of the fire. A Salamander, which is a mythical creature that is unaffected by fire, is the fitting definition for Montag as he happily goes about his occupation of fireman. The opening sentence of the novel reads, "It was a pleasure to burn, to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed." This opening statement personifies fire as a destructive entity implemented for censorship. As the novel progresses, this viewpoint of fire is amplified when it consumes the old woman who refuses to leave her books. This high-tension situation strikes a certain chord in Montag's mind that causes him to rethink about society's opinion on books. At the climax of the novel, fire is used in the ultimate form of purging by purging all of Montag's connections with his former society. When he burns down his house, it is symbolic of his rejection of all the material entities of the society and when he burns incinerates Beatty, it represents his rejection of the philosophical nature of the society. however, by the end of the novel, fire is dramatically changed in Montag's eyes. what was once a form of destruction becomes a form of necessity and comfort. When Montag escapes from the society, he discovers the importance of fire and its true use when the other men build one and cook their meal over it. This shows Montag how fire is also life-giving as well. This allusion is also paralleled by Granger's relation of humanity to the story of the phoenix. The phoenix dies by consuming itself in flames, yet in the end, a new phoenix is reborn from the ashes. The symbol of the phoenix's rebirth refers not only to the collective rebirth of humankind but also to Montag's spiritual resurrection. The final form of this cleansing actually occurs when the city is bombed and consumed by the fire, representing the destructive power of human ignorance. Throughout history man has viewed fire as friend and foe. It has killed lives, yet it has saved countless others. It has destroyed many aspects of human progress, yet it has also helped stimulate this same progress. In the end, this double-edged sword comes to symbolize the whole mindset and change in Montag's ways from a mindless drone to a free-thinker.
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"Colored people don't like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don't feel good about Uncle Tom's Cabin. Burn it. Someone's written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. Take your fight outside. Better yet, into the incinerator. Funerals are unhappy and pagan? Eliminate them too. Five minutes after a person is dead he's on his way to the Big Flue, the Incinerators serviced by helicopters all over the country. Ten minutes after death a man's a speck of black dust. Let's not quibble over individuals with memoriums. Forget them. Burn all, burn everything. Fire is bright and fire is clean." (Bradbury 59-60)
This entire passage, spoken by Beatty and directed towards Montag, illustrates the empty ideal of censorship. Bradbury implements the discontent of different groups of people as the spark that incinerates the fires of totalitarian government regulation. As the old saying goes, "You can't please everyone", yet everyone in this society wishes to be happy and hollow rather than be offended and full of life. Mildred manifests these ideals by the actions she commits throughout the novel. She goes through every day a leech, living in a fantasy land created by a television screen, and ends up committing suicide every time she feels discontent. After which Montag has her blood repumped and she is primed for another day of pointless existence. Wash, rinse, repeat. This futile existence is further amplified by the mention of funerals in the passage. In the present day, a funeral is a time of great emotion and personal inquisition. It is a time where the dead are honored for their life accomplishments. In this society, however, the only thing remaining of a person 10 minutes after they've died is a "black speck of dust." This is a symbol as well for the emptiness and lack of worth in these peoples' lives. This passage is also yet another reference to fire as a cleansing agent. All of these ideals ultimately form into the dystopia that is Montag's society.
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C) Fahrenheit 451 was a captivating read that kept me hooked until the final conclusion. Bradbury's blending of symbolism with rich dialogue is what makes this book a literary great. The profound transition of Montag's mind was most captivating to me and by the end, Montag became one of the most dynamic characters I have ever witnessed. The novel was easy to read, had a very simple yet genuine flow, and had a rather resolved ending in terms of Montag versus himself. Overall, I'd give this book a 5/5, a must-read for sci-fi/dystopia fans.