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Analysis of Allusions in 'Fahrenheit 451': Critical Essay

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Fahrenheit 451 Allusions Research

Allusion/Type: Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels/literature

Quote: “It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end.” (Bradbury 65).

Explanation: This particular quote is based on the way people broke their eggs to eat. Usually, they would be broken on the “fat” end, but because of a situation with the king’s son, he ordered the public to instead break them on the smaller side. In the piece of literature Gulliver’s Travels, this line is literally about where to break an egg, but it’s used in a different context in Fahrenheit 451. It is about the struggle between reason & personal beliefs (“Gulliver’s Travels”).

Allusion/Type: William Blake/literature

Quote: “Burning Bright” (Bradbury 107).

Explanation: William Blake was a poet who published a poem in 1794 called The Tyger, in which he explains the discombobulating nature of existence. “Burning Bright” is from a part of the Tyger poem. In Fahrenheit 451, the world is considered ‘backward’ because the firemen instigate fires instead of putting them out. Using this allusion, Montag questions the “evil forces” at work. The people who are burning books at the time are judged, yet the characters have a sense of hope that society will reconstruct itself like the ever-burning fire (“William Blake”).

Allusion/Type: Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley/history

Quote: “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” (Bradbury 37).

Explanation: In 1555, two men by the names of Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were burned at the stake because their personal beliefs conflicted with those of Mary I. This quote is significant because Hugh is credited with saying the exact same thing to Nicholas, and while they both died, their symbolism and memorable deaths fueled the Reformists’ Movement. By using this specific quote, Bradbury points out that the woman would rather burn in her home with her books instead of letting them go up in flames for no reason. She had a cause that she cared about so dearly, she was willing to die for it (“Hugh Latimer”) (“Nicholas Ridley”).

Allusion/Type: Benjamin Franklin/history

Quote: “Established, 1790, to burn English-influenced books in the Colonies. First Fireman: Benjamin Franklin” (Bradbury 32).

Explanation: The “first fireman” supposedly would have burned books that were influenced by England to separate the US from that era of their history because this time frame was around the time that the United States had fought and won their independence from England. Benjamin Franklin helped to perfect and make the printing press/mass reproduction of books and texts well-known. By using him, they can use historical events to support their beliefs because the public’s blind trust in the government allowed them to make up their own truth, and luckily enough books relating to the history of America weren’t available (“Benjamin Franklin”).

Allusion/Type: Tower of Babel/bible

Quote: “You’ve been locked up here for years with a regular damned Tower of Babel, Snap out of it!” (Bradbury 35).

Explanation: The story of the Tower of Babel is complicated and open to many levels of interpretation. The story of the division of language in itself is remarkable. Something as baffling as why all men don’t speak the same language is a topic that people from many cultures have tried to solve by tying it to an act of the divine or unknown, thus leaving modern readers and believers with a variety of similar stories as to how it happened. This character uses the Tower of Babel to “justify” the book burnings because, like the people in the tower, the books contradict each other, confusing the readers. So, similar to the reference to Benjamin Franklin, it hints that the people of that community are discouraged from sharing unique thoughts or original ideas; their thoughts are somewhat manipulated by the government (“Tower of Babel”).

Allusion/Type: Old and New Testaments/bible

Quote: “‘This is the Old and New Testament, and…’” (Bradbury 72).

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Explanation: The modification within the Old and also the New Testament represents the change within the society in Fahrenheit 451. The characters lived in a society of obliviousness, but as Montag is more and more enlightened of the ignorance, it begins a chain of alteration. One may even say that in some aspects, he represents Jesus or a Christ-like figure for the rest of the characters. In the Bible, the Old Testament is before Jesus & the New Testament is when Jesus is born and the world basically is given a new hope. Both the Old and New Testaments are important because they show what the world was like without a “beacon of light” or a leader and what it was like once it came and corrected their wrongs (“Old Testament”) (“New Testament”).

Allusion/Type: Book of Job/bible

Quote: “You’ll have to take me on faith… You’ll have to travel blind for awhile… I’ll read so you can remember… The Book of Job.” (Bradbury 89).

Explanation: The Book of Job is a book in the Bible written by Job, telling his tale of his tragedy-stricken life and how the way he overcame his challenges showed his loyalty to God. His story went that as a man of God, he was taught to love and fear God at all times. Due to that, he was tested by God himself. The job went through serious difficulties like poverty, sickness, and loss. In this allusion, the Book of Job is being used as a lesson to the characters- both Job and Montag lost important things, went through various trials, took leaps of faith, and worked to maintain a clearer future (“The Book of Job”).

Allusion/Type: Book of Ecclesiastes/bible

Quote: “‘The Book of Ecclesiastes would be fine. Where was it?’ ‘Here.’ Montag touched his head.” (Bradbury 144).

Explanation: The Book of Ecclesiastes’ main theme revolves around the fact that vanity, “worldly” pleasures, and “worldly” pursuits are just a road to emptiness. Its message is that although filling yourself up with pleasure, money, and materialistic things is enjoyable, eventually it’ll leave you with nothing. In this quote, Montag reveals that because he has partially memorized that lesson, he would be the one in charge of protecting and preserving it. He plans on using it to give the future generation the ability to learn from their mistakes and think like individuals.

Allusion/Type: Book of Revelation: The Tree of Life/bible

Quote: “And on either side of the river was there a tree of life, which bare twelve manners of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Bradbury 158).

Explanation: Similar to the phoenix, the tree of life is a symbol of a fresh start in life, positive energy, good health, and a bright future. It is used as a symbol of immortality. A regular tree will grow old, yet the tree of life bears seeds that contain its very essence and in this way, becomes immortal. This story is mentioned to give the reader a sense of hope, in the way that the tree bears fruit, the characters can also make their own truth by continuing their journey to the city (“Trees in Mythology”).

Allusion/Type: Salamanders according to myth/legend/mythology

Quote: “But he knew his mouth had only moved to say hello, and then when she seemed hypnotized by the salamander on his arm and the phoenix-disc on his chest, he spoke again.” (Bradbury 4).

Explanation: In ancient legends, salamanders were creatures that thrived in fire but became weak and passed away once they had exposure to air. In Fahrenheit 451, the salamander is associated with fire & firemen. When the woman sees the salamander symbol on the man’s arm, she recognizes his profession immediately. She is “hypnotized” because as a fireman, his job is to burn books and the homes of intellectuals. In a way, firemen are used as a governmental institution to censor nationwide literature and knowledge (“Salamander”).

Allusion/Type: The legend of the Phoenix/mythology

Quote: “‘There was a silly damn bird called a Phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burned himself up’” (Bradbury 125).

Explanation: The phoenix, or the story of the phoenix, is that there is a bird that reincarnates itself. Its life span is hundreds of years but when it dies, it breaks into flames, only to be reborn from the ashes. It can have multiple definitions depending on which aspect of the bird that is focused on. It can symbolize rebirth and new beginnings. In this case, Ray Bradbury uses the phoenix as an example of doing the same thing over and over again. He states that although the phoenix will forever get another shot at life, people won’t, and it’s important to realize your mistakes and make a new “life” for yourself while you still have the chance (“Phoenix”).

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