In this lesson, we'll learn about the symbolism regarding the salamander in ''Fahrenheit 451'' and analyze the deeper meaning that author Ray Bradbury intended with the use of this symbol.
What Is a Symbol?
A white flag is simply a piece of white cloth on a stick, but in context, we know the flag symbolizes surrender. A diamond ring is a piece of silver or gold with a precious stone, but if a man gets down on one knee and presents it to his girlfriend, we know this is a symbol of proposal and marriage. The ring itself is a symbol of unity and commitment.
A white flag, a diamond ring, even the letters you are currently reading on this page are all symbols of something more. A symbol is something that represents something else, such as a concept, theme, or idea. Works of literature often use symbols to convey deeper meaning of a character, object, place, or color.
In Fahrenheit 451, the firemen proudly wear the symbol of a salamander on their coats and trucks. Bradbury selected this symbol with the intention of connecting the salamander to the main character and theme. Let's explore the salamander more.
Throughout the passage of time, it has been said that the salamander was believed to be a mythical creature that could withstand fire; if burned, the salamander would come out unscathed. No wonder Bradbury used this creature as a symbol for the firemen whose sole purpose is to burn down houses. Hundreds of years ago, this amphibian was regarded, like the phoenix, as a symbol of immortality, rebirth, and passion. In the story, the salamander is seen as a symbol of power, protection, and unbreakable will.
Relating to the lizard family, we can also see a connection to serpents which typically represent evil, as seen in the Bible, Paradise Lost, and other religious texts. The salamander was looked at as a form of witchcraft that could not be explained. The legend caused people to fear the tiny creature.
The salamander is the firemen's logo found on their coats and trucks. This is also the term the society uses in place of the term fire truck. After acknowledging the lore of the creature, it seems clear why Bradbury would use this amphibian as a symbol for the firemen. The firemen's job is to burn down houses of those that break the law of owning books. The firemen go into the home, torch the walls and floors, and come out alive to burn again.
The firemen are a symbol of power, order, and control that cannot be destroyed, for the firemen are the destroyers, yet protectors, of their society. The firemen, like the salamander, will not be burned or destroyed by those who break the rules. Bradbury cleverly selects this symbol to remind the reader that the firemen are the law; they are untouchable. To their dystopian society, they seem immortal and fireproof. While respected, the firemen are also feared, just as the salamander was, due to a lack of knowledge.
The Salamander and Montag
Since the salamander was supposedly able to withstand fire, and like the phoenix comes out unscathed on the other side, the salamander is a symbol of Montag's unbreakable will and his passion for continuing forward in his pursuit of knowledge and happiness. Montag loses his wife, his home, and his job because of the flame of change inside his heart. He knows he must push forward and stop burning the innocent people that are not fireproof.
Montag's house and the remaining memories of his old life are burned. In one regard, we could say that part of Montag has been burned off, yet he lives to see another day. He walks through the fire, his essence unscathed, to a new life.
The Salamander as an Idol
The salamander and the Phoenix are both creatures that are symbolic in nature in regards to fire, flames, immortality, passion, and rebirth. Both are depicted on the firemen's coats as a symbol of their jobs and the concept of power that the people worship as idols.
The salamander is the literal symbol on the men's coats in the story, but the irony lies in the fact that the people have no knowledge of what the symbol means. The people see the symbols as a positive asset to society, while lore tells us the symbol is negative by nature. However, the people fear the laws, but respect the protection these men seem to offer. Yet, any one of the people living in the society could be next to burn.
Did you get burned playing with the salamander's fire in this lesson? The symbol, or representation, of the salamander plays a larger role in Fahrenheit 451 than simply a logo. The salamander represents immortality, rebirth, passion, and the ability to withstand flames.
The symbol connects to Montag as a character who burned his life, literally and figuratively, in the pursuit of knowledge and happiness, yet came out unscathed on the other side. As a symbol of the firemen and the name of their trucks, the salamander symbol also reminds the reader that fire is the foundation of this dystopian world and that firemen represent power, protection, and immortality.
If you're brave enough to question society's norms, a second chance at life could be right around the corner, just as the salamander walks through the fire and lives to see the other side.