American Literature 11
11 November 2013
Symbolism in Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury, the author of the well-known science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, was alarmed by how much time he felt the public devoted to watching television in the 1950’s. “If this [trend of television watching] goes on…” he wrote, “nobody will read books anymore” (XIII). This thought of a television-obsessed future public frightened Bradbury. He was particularly fearful of how technology might prevent people from forming relationships with each other and connecting with the world around them, which would make them unable to develop human consciousness. He used the format of literature to describe his fears in the futuristic science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451. In the novel, Bradbury uses symbols to illustrate his concerns about future generations living in a technological society without books. Bradbury uses the symbol of hands to represent human conscience, the symbol of the phoenix to mark rebirth, and the symbol of the mechanical hound to stand for the cold inhumanity of technology.
The first symbol, the symbol of hands, demonstrates human conscience. Bradbury’s descriptions of the hands of his various characters represent that character’s current state of human consciousness. Guy Montag, the novel’s main character, develops a human conscience throughout the course of the novel. Montag is a firefighter in Fahrenheit 451’s futuristic world of technology. Montag’s job is to burn books, which destroys the wisdom and insight that the books contained. At first, Montag does not feel any moral conflict with this task. Indeed, he finds it “a pleasure to burn” (Bradbury 3). Montag’s displays his true lack of conscience in how he describes his actions (McGiveron 1). Montag glorifies his actions as a firefighter by describing how “his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters in charcoal ruins of history” (Bradbury 3). Montag’s hands are clearly in control of his actions in the way he describes his work, because a “conductor” is a person who is in control. Also, Montag’s description shows that he has no conscience guiding the work of his hands as a firefighter because he does not even recognize the “blazing and burning to bring down the tatters in charcoal ruins of history” as a sad event (Bradbury 3). Montag’s conscience does not begin to develop until he meets a young girl named Clarisse, who is a “sensitive, observant person who questioned society” (Sisario 2). Montag and Clarisse have a conversation in which Clarisse asks Montag many thought-provoking questions about the world. Clarisse’s questioning leads Montag to view the world differently. Clarisse awakens Montag’s conscience and changes his opinions on his job as a book-burning firefighter. Bradbury expresses Montag’s newfound consciousness through the actions of Montag’s hands (McGiveron 2). For example, Bradbury writes that “[Montag’s] hand had done it all, his hand with a brain of its own, with a conscience and a curiosity in each trembling finger, had turned thief” (Bradbury 37). This quote is from the scene where Montag is opening his first book to read. Montag talks about his hands having a conscience because he is not ready to acknowledge that he has a conscience. Therefore, Montag’s hands are symbolizing his development of a human conscience. In contrast to Guy Montag’s active, conscious hands, Mildred Montag, Guy’s wife, has dull, listless hands. Montag describes his wife as having “hands that don’t [seem to be] doing anything at all…[t]hey just hang there at her sides or they lay there on her lap or there’s a cigarette in them, but that’s all” (Bradbury 156). Mildred’s unmoving hands show that her inner conscience is not existent. Mildred is the opposite of Guy; she is fully absorbed in the television-obsessed future society and lacks the ability to feel and act human. The novel suggests that it...
Cited: "Fahrenheit 451." Novels for Students. Ed. Diane Telgen. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1997. 138-157. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.
McGiveron, Rafeeq O. "Bradbury 's Fahrenheit 451." Explicator 54.3 (Spring 1996): 177-180. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 235. Detroit: Gale, 2007. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.
Sisario, Peter. "A Study of the Allusions in Bradbury 's Fahrenheit 451." English Journal 59.2 (Feb. 1970): 201-205. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Deborah A. Stanley. Vol. 98. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.
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