Imagery in Fahrenheit 451: Examples & Analysis

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  • 0:01 What Is Imagery?
  • 1:12 Visual Imagery
  • 2:39 Auditory Imagery
  • 3:50 Olfactory Imagery
  • 5:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Imagery is one of the most powerful literary devices that authors use to engage their readers. This lesson explores and analyzes Ray Bradbury's use of imagery in his novel Fahrenheit 451.

What Is Imagery?

Have you ever read a text or a story that was really dry or boring? Maybe the author's writing was very to the point, without any flare or exciting language to keep you engaged. In all likelihood, the author did not use any literary devices in their writing. You can think of literary devices as special effects for language. They make writing more vivid, more exciting, and certainly more interesting for the reader.

One of the most common literary devices is imagery, or descriptive language that helps engage the reader's senses. While the word image is a part of imagery, that does not mean it's limited to just describing things that readers can see. Instead, imagery can take on several different forms:

  • visual - what the reader can see
  • auditory - what the reader can hear
  • olfactory - what the reader can smell
  • gustatory - what the reader can taste
  • tactile - what the reader can feel

Author Ray Bradbury is a master of imagery, especially visual, auditory, and olfactory. His novel, Fahrenheit 451, is filled with numerous examples of each.

Visual Imagery

Visual imagery is perhaps one of the easiest forms to identify. After all, this type of literary devices describes exactly what readers should see in their minds. Bradbury uses visual imagery to describe various characters, objects, and moments. For example, Bradbury's first description of Guy Montag, a man whose job it is to burn books, vividly depicts him as a mad conductor manipulating a massive snake:

'With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all of the symphonies of blazing and burning...'

Clearly this description is far more vivid and descriptive than simply explaining that Montag was holding a fire hose filled with kerosene.

As Montag escapes the authorities, Bradbury describes how Montag believes how the world must look as they watch his flight:

'He imagined thousands on thousands of faces peering into yards, into alleys, and into the sky, faces hid by curtains, pale, night-frightened faces, like gray animals peering from electric caves, faces with gray colorless eyes, gray tongues, and gray thoughts looking out through the numb flesh of the face.'

Bradbury's use of the word 'gray' helps readers to imagine the grotesque similarity of people in his futuristic society.

Auditory Imagery

Auditory imagery, depicting what the reader can hear, is very common in literature, but few authors use it as successfully and impactfully as Ray Bradbury. In lieu of describing the noise coming from Montag's wife's 'Seashells', similar to modern earbuds, as it really sounds, Bradbury's auditory imagery provides deeper meaning:

'The little mosquito-delicate dancing hum in the air, the electrical murmur of a hidden wasp snug in its special pink warm nest. The music was almost loud enough so he could follow the tune.'

For readers, it's possible to imagine the buzzing noise made by a mosquito.

Bradbury also uses auditory imagery to describe the sounds of common objects in uncommon terms. Guy Montag notices jets and bombers throughout the book. They don't just make loud or jarring noises, instead it's as if they're almost human. The bombers 'crossed the sky over the house, gasping, murmuring, whistling like an immense invisible fan, circling in emptiness.' Bradbury's use of words like 'gasping' and 'murmuring' help the reader to imagine the full spectrum of noises the machines create.

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