Authors often use literary devices to convey their themes and express their ideas. Fahrenheit 451 is a complex story written by Ray Bradbury that takes a lot of thought to process and break down. In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury uses comparison and symbolism to convey how an authoritarian society emerges from a lack of care for knowledge. Information in Fahrenheit 451 is highly controlled and any sort of knowledge is banned in favor of superficial entertainment. Because of this, the people of society have no awareness of the history and current events, like the war that is currently ongoing.
In Fahrenheit 451, society is so caught up in themselves and their so-called ‘happiness’ they are unwilling to educate each other. If society wasn’t so ignorant about educating themselves, “maybe books can get [them] half out the cave” (Bradbury 70). Books are so powerful in enlightening readers and helping them develop wisdom, yet society is willing to give books up for technology that fills them up with nothing but superficial happiness. Fahrenheit 451 isn’t the first form of text that has revealed the ugly nature of ignorance. In The Allegory of The Cave by Plato, Plato addresses the effect of education and knowledge and the lack of it on society. In this narrative, three prisoners have been incarcerated in a cave since birth. Behind them is a fire and people walk along the walkway carrying different things on their heads like plants or animals. The shadows of the objects would reflect on the wall and the prisoners would believe that the phantoms were ‘real’. One of the prisoners escapes and leaves the cave. He discovers the world outside the cave and realizes that his former belief of ‘reality’ was incorrect. More importantly, the escaped prisoner discovers the sun. When he returns to the cave to tell the others about his discovery, they do not believe him because they think that the outside world had made him insane and threaten to kill him if he sets them free. Connecting this to Fahrenheit 451, the story of the escaped prisoner mirrors Montag, who seeks knowledge outside of the society’s superficial ideas and voyaged an intellectual journey to seek truth and wisdom. The escaped prisoner discoveres the sun, which parallels the books in Fahrenheit 451. When the escaped prisoner returns to the cave, the rest of the prisoners refused to believe him and threaten to kill him, just like how Mildred reacted when Montag reveals to her of the truth. She lives in complete darkness and only believes what is reflected to her off her television wall, exactly like how the prisoners only believe the shadows on the wall.
Authors often use symbolism to create a deeper meaning in their story. In Fahrenheit 451, fire symbolizes two completely different things. Fire is a dual element that symbolizes both destruction and creation. In the beginning of the narrative, fire was often associated with burning and destruction. According to Montag then, he believed that books were “a pleasure to burn” (Bradbury 1). The way fire is used in this section displays how the firemen, including Montag, felt about burning books. Montag felt patriotic for destroying material that society considered provocative. He even stated that he enjoyed seeing things “blackened and changed” (Bradbury 1). The phrase “blackened and changed” symbolizes darkness and destruction, and Montag, like the rest of society, wanted books to go extinct. Society is so ignorant of true education and wisdom, which is why they have to satisfy themselves with fake and superficial happiness. It’s ironic how much firemen have changed throughout the course of history as Clarisse heard once that “a long time ago, houses used to burn by accident and they needed firemen to stop the flames” (Bradbury 6). The purpose of firemen got twisted into destruction over time since they used to symbolize saviors from flames, which humanity viewed as an enemy. As time passes, the purpose of fire changed and is viewed as a way for society to save themselves from the ‘threats’ in literature. Because of this, the purpose of firemen changed as well. Firemen no longer represent safety, but more as danger and demolition. If there is an issue, the society’s best solution is to get rid of it, just like how Beatty believes that society should “forget them [books]. Burn all, burn everything. Fire is bright and fire is clean” (Bradbury 57). Fire, as we know, is used as a solution for destroying problems and avoiding reality. In the novel, firemen believe that books are a threat, but instead of proving why books are so provocative, they chose to burn and destroy it because they don’t care enough about it to find reasons as to why it’s so negative. It displays how lazy and ignorant society is. Society would rather avoid the issues that come their way instead of seeking a solution.
Fire is not only associated with destruction, but also with creation. After Montag escaped, fire was associated with warmth. To Montag, fire was no longer “burning, it was warming.’ (Bradbury 139). Because Montag was willing to educate himself and read, he was able to feel real happiness and authentuality. When he meets Granger, the fire that was once so destructive is now warming. Warmth is associated with affection and kindness. Bradbury does this to compare how the novel shifted its view on fire from a negative connotation to a positive connotation. The society mishandled fire by using it to destroy, compared to Granger and Montag, who views fire as a form of warmth and affection. If society didn’t use fire as a solution for their problems, maybe they would see the true beauty and meaning behind it.