Figurative Language in Fahrenheit 451

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  • 0:05 What is Figurative Language?
  • 0:51 Personification
  • 2:09 Symbolism
  • 3:29 Simile & Metaphor
  • 5:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Liz Breazeale
Figurative language is a staple of any author's repertoire. In this lesson, learn about different types of figurative language as they appear in Ray Bradbury's ''Fahrenheit 451''.

What Is Figurative Language?

Figurative language is a commonly used technique in writing. It means using language to convey a meaning that is different from the interpretation of the literal words used on the page. Figurative language can be used by an author for many different reasons, like wanting to make a particular point with word choice or an image, or wanting to make the language particularly beautiful, or making an image particularly clear.

Ray Bradbury is known for his unique writing style, one that often uses figurative language. In his 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451, we can see several different types of figurative language. Here are the types you'll be learning about in this lesson: personification, symbolism, simile, and metaphor.


Personification sort of sounds like what it is. No, it's not turning from an animal into a person, but it is kind of similar. Personification means giving an inhuman object human traits. This conveys a point easily on the page, while also offering a more relatable, quicker description of something. Like in this example from Fahrenheit 451:

'Titles glittered their golden eyes, falling, gone' (18).

What is being given a human trait here? That's right, the books. Specifically, the inscriptions of their titles along the covers. Books don't have eyes. They're just books. They have pages and spines and title pages, so they certainly aren't human beings. But here, Bradbury is cleverly personifying the books to reflect the drama of the scene and the protagonist's changing mindset.

In this scene, the firemen are burning a woman's library, destroying all of her books. With this simple line, Bradbury transforms the books into human entities, with eyes that are watching the protagonist as he burns them. Wouldn't you feel guilty if you were burning something with eyes that could watch you? Definitely. So not only is this a really interesting, poetic description of books, but it shows how the protagonist is beginning to feel very guilty about his role in the burning of books.


Symbolism is using a particular person, place, or thing to represent something else, like an abstract idea. Like how a heart, an easily recognizable object, is used to represent the huge, abstract concept of love. Symbols take something huge and difficult to visualize or grasp and then transform them into something a little more manageable.

In Section 3 of the novel, a character named Granger directly compares humanity to the mythological Phoenix, the creature that catches on fire but is reborn after rising from its ashes. Humans are very resilient, and have always been able to bounce back, even from unimaginable tragedies. So, the story of the Phoenix mirrors that of humanity, which makes the Phoenix a symbol for humankind in general.

Why not just have this Granger character lecture on the essence of humanity, then? Why use the symbol of the Phoenix? Well, for starters, the Phoenix is pretty common knowledge, and lots of people will understand the reference. Also, it's an excellent, hopeful comparison, especially since Granger has just witnessed an entire city being bombed to ashes. The hope represented by the Phoenix translates to the hope felt by the protagonist, Montag, at the end of the novel. With books, he hopes, humanity can rise from its own ashes once more.

Simile and Metaphor

A simile is a comparison of two unlike things. But beware: in order to be a simile, a comparison must use 'like' or 'as'. A simile can offer a fresh take on an old description, and it can convey a character's mindset at a particular moment, too. Take this example from the novel:

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