The use of symbolism in the novel Fahrenheit 451 are many. The title of the novel itself alludes that it will contain fire, heat, temperature rising, etc. We find that the novel it aptly named. The book centers around main character, Guy Montag, who is a fireman that sets out to burn every book in sight in an American city. This futuristic society does not read books but instead devotes their time to mindless activities such as watching tv, listening to the radio, and driving fast. Montag believes ridding the city of all its books will be justification for its citizens ineptness.
There are several symbols throughout the novel that reinforce this. Blood is a running symbol that readers see frequently. It is symbolic of life or lack thereof. Beyond that it represents the dead souls of man. An example is when Montag’s wife, Mildred, attempts suicide and her poisoned blood is replaced with new blood. She was revived back to life but remained dead inside.
The hearth and the salamander are also two symbols threaded throughout the novel. The author uses the hearth as a symbol of a fireplace which is often found in the home. The fireplace is where fires are built and have historically held meaning throughout time to serve as a means for providing a heat source to keep warm and to cook food. It can also burn objects that come in contact with. Salamanders are symbolic of firemen. They are adopted as a two-fold purpose; to serve as a name for their firetrucks and to show that salamanders do not die in fire or flames. This is an old ancient theory and thus supports the symbolic nature of the book as a whole.
Other symbols include the sieve and the sand. Both serve as distinct symbols for Montag who is taken back to his childhood when he his attempts to put sand into a sieve became futile and left him frustrated and upset. This take Montag to the moment in time when he tried to read the entire Bible in one sitting while traveling on the subway. He believed if he crammed as much of it into his brain that he would be able to successfully remember most, if not all of it. The sieve and the sand are symbolic for Montag and readers in that it reminds him that sand provides kernels of truth that are adopted by the mind to make sense of things. Each grain of sand represents one kernel or in Montag’s case, each verse of the Bible that he attempts to digest.
The Phoenix is yet another symbol of fire and invincibility. Man can be likened to a Phoenix in that he falls and rises repeatedly. It represents a rebirth within man that arises from overcoming his mistakes of the past.
The novel also uses mirrors as a symbol of reflection. It ties together all the various running symbols throughout the novel. Humans fail and get back up again. At some point in life, we must all take a long look at ourselves by reflecting on our successes and failures that have molded and shaped us into who we have become.
The primary conflict in Fahrenheit 451 is the battle between man and society. Society has become a vessel through which all of mankind evolves and is molded and shaped. Montag struggles with this dilemma in the novel. He is taken aback at how detached his fellow man has become from personal interactions with one another. While the novel is fiction, it seems quite ominous to the realities that have evolved in present day society. A monster has been created in how people connect and interact. There are electronic devices, email, social media, etc that give people the ability to connect in ways like never before. As a result, many would prefer to text as to talk face to face or over the phone. While people everywhere are connected to their electronic devices, many would rather stare at their screens than look up at the world around them. This is the major dilemma Montag faces as he encounters.
Montag burns the books within the city where he lives because people have gotten away from reading books and have replaced them with their electronics and alternate realities. The society in which he resides has become conditioned to think and act a certain way. People have lost sight of being able to think for themselves and thus, Montag feels very unhappy with his life. He meets a young woman who has not succumbed to the travails of society and shows Montag there is more to life than having one’s nose buried in television screens. He begins to question if there is more to life than television, radio, and fast driving. Thus, he questions if the answers he seeks can be found in the books he has burned.