Fire in Fahrenheit 451

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

'Fahrenheit 451' by Ray Bradbury uses fire as a symbol of destruction and knowledge. In this lesson, we will analyze several quotes to understand the importance of fire as a symbol within the novel.

Background

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is a novel discussing censorship of knowledge. Montag is a young firefighter living in a society where books are banned and burned if they are discovered. Montag, unlike other citizens, begins to question this law, which leads to his decision to join an underground resistance seeking to preserve knowledge. While there are many symbols in the novel, none is more important than fire because of its duplicitous meanings. In this lesson, we will discuss fire, and how it represents both destroyer and knowledge in Fahrenheit 451.

Fire as Destroyer

Fire burns books and destroys houses in Fahrenheit 451. The firefighters work to burn all of the books that have not been destroyed yet. They also wear the number '451' on their hats, which represents the temperature required to burn paper. Not only does fire destroy physical property, but it also destroys individuals' right to think differently.

For example, Captain Beatty says, 'We must all be alike. Not everyone born and equal…So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon.' Books give citizens access to information that enables them to think for themselves; thus fire must be used to eliminate any possibility of that happening in this society. Fire destroys freethinking through censorship.

Fire as Knowledge and Self-Awareness

When controlled, fire stands for knowledge and self-awareness also. At the beginning of the novel, the firefighters go to a woman's house to burn down the books. She is unwilling to part with the books because they represent intellectual independence, so she lights herself on fire too.

During the scene, she says, 'Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace in England, as I trust I shall never be put out.' The information held within the books and her mind, although being burned, cannot be destroyed by the flames. In fact, the burning represents the exact opposite. The fire sparks a thought in Montag's mind on the consequences of burning books and punishing people for being critical thinkers.

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