In this lesson, we'll analyze Ray Bradbury's use of foreshadowing in his popular novel 'Fahrenheit 451' while exploring the meaning and purpose of some of his choices.
Imagine you're handed a map with a bunch of clues where X marks the spot of the treasure. Sound familiar? Pirates aren't the only people who use clues to hide their gold. Authors do the same when they write in the form of foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is used to create suspense, set up conflict, and make connections within the plot. It's when an author gives us hints and clues as to what will occur later in the story. These clues could be anything from a character trait, a location, an object, and more. Ray Bradbury maps out his clues in the first part of Fahrenheit 451: 'The Hearth and the Salamander.' Let's take a look at the foreshadowing technique he uses to create the essence of the novel.
'Are You Happy?'
At the beginning of the story, Clarisse follows Montag home from work, asking bizarre questions regarding his job, life, and identity. Just before Clarisse runs into her house, she asks Montag if he is happy. At first Montag laughs, but once inside his home, he becomes very defensive as he stares up at another clue that we'll discuss shortly. A seemingly simple question and quick conversation pushes Montag's mind into a downward spiral of more questions. In the end, Montag admits he's not happy. This line of questioning from Clarisse sets up Montag's internal conflict that he'll battle until the end of the story. The question of happiness, Montag's life, and his identity will now be his sole purpose for living. This simple conversation foreshadows Montag's journey to find himself and his purpose in life.
As Montag walks into his home after his life-changing conversation, he stares up at the air vent in his hallway and describes something looking back down at him. The next time the narrator mentions the vent is on the morning after Mildred, Montag's wife, overdoses on sleeping pills. He stares at the vent for a long time until his wife mentions the TV script she's reading. Even when Montag is away from home, the thought of the vent follows him. At the fire station, Montag recalls the vent grill and worries that someone will inform the Hound. Later, when Montag asks Captain Beatty questions regarding the books they burn and the purpose of their job, he thinks back to the vent, wondering if Beatty can see beyond the grill.
Each time the vent grill is mentioned, the mood is negative, implying guilt, nervousness, and secrecy. The reader is left to wonder what Montag is hiding. At the end of Part 1, Montag reveals what he has been hiding in the vent - a stash of stolen books that could get Guy and Mildred arrested, and far worse. Bradbury uses the vent grill as a motif, or a repeated image, to foreshadow Montag's secret, creating tension to keep the reader wanting more.
Old Man Faber
After Montag's first encounter with Clarisse, he reflects back to when he met a man in the park. Montag says the talk he had with the man was similar to the way he and Clarisse spoke. Bradbury uses an ellipsis (which look like this …) and continues on with the story, letting the reader know that this moment, while brief, hints at another person that resembles Clarisse. We find out later that this old man is Faber, the man that helps Montag read and escape death.
Bradbury sets up this brief memory at the beginning of 'The Hearth and the Salamander' and does not refer back to it until Part 2: 'The Sieve and The Sand.' The lack of information and the ellipsis create suspense and add to the conflict Montag faces. And, the brief mention of the man and the ellipsis foreshadow the importance that he'll play in resolving Montag's conflict.
At one point, Clarisse puts a dandelion under Montag's chin and says that he's not in love. Montag is outraged by this claim, but this small gesture hints at the true nature of his marital relationship. On top of that, it adds to his conflict by forcing him to question another aspect of his life that he thought was intact. Does he really love his wife? Does Mildred really love Montag?
While the action of putting a dandelion under one's chin is childish, it hints at the fact that Montag truly doesn't love his wife. As we read on, Montag and his wife are revealed as strangers to each other. The dandelion foreshadows the downfall of their relationship when Mildred chooses her own happiness over his. While her actions are seemingly selfish, Montag is on his own selfish path.
When we're first introduced to the Hound at the fire station, the narrator explains that Montag is fascinated by it. Every time he goes near it, the Hound growls and reacts negatively to Montag's presence. This foreshadows Montag's fate of fighting off not one, but two Hounds because it shows Montag's amino acids are affected by the changing in his thinking and feeling. The Hound knows Montag is beginning to change, and every time Montag thinks about the Hound or goes near it, the reader is left to question Montag's intentions and the Hound's reactions.
Did this lesson help you read Ray Bradbury's foreshadowing treasure map to Fahrenheit 451? You may not have noticed the clues when you first read the book, but looking back and analyzing the hints and clues a writer leaves along the way can help you gain a deeper insight into the characters and the overall plot. Next time you read anything, remember to look for subtle hints, clues, and repetitions that may help you connect all the dots on your next literary treasure hunt!