Fahrenheit 451Light, especially fire, and darkness are significantly reoccurring themes inFahrenheit 451. Guy Montag, the main character, is a fireman, but in thisfuturistic world the job description of a fireman is to start fires whereverbooks are found; instead of putting them out.
Montag takes a journey from aliterary darkness to a knowledgeable light. This journey can be compared to theshort story Allegory of the Cave by Plato, in which a prisoner experiences asimilar journey. An example of light, in reference to knowledge, occurs justafter Montag meets Clarisse for the first time. “When they reached herhouse all its lights were blazing” (9). Since Montag had rarely seen thatmany house lights on, I interpreted those lines as saying “that house isfull of knowledge and enlightenment; not like the rest of the houses around herewhich are always dark.
” Clarisse went on to explain to Montag that hermother, father, and uncle were just sitting around and talking. This was alsosomething that wasn’t very commonplace in the city. Fire is an important elementof symbolism in Fahrenheit 451. Fire consumes minds, spirits, men, ideas, andbooks. Fire plays two very different roles in this book. The role of adestructive, devouring, and life ending force, and the role of a nourishingflame.
The first role that fire plays in Fahrenheit 451 is apparent from thevery beginning of Bradbury’s novel. “IT WAS A PLEASURE TO BURN. It was apleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed” (3). Inthese first two sentences, Bradbury creates a sense of curiosity and ironybecause in the story, change is something controlled and unwanted by thegovernment and society, so it is very unlikely that anything in Guy Montag’ssociety could be changed.
The burning described at this point represents theconstructive energy that later leads to catastrophe. A clear picture of firemenis first seen when the narrator says, “With his symbolic helmet numbered451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of whatcame next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire thatburned the evening sky red and yellow and black” (3). Fahrenheit 451 is thetemperature at which books burn and is symbolically written on the firemen’shelmets, tanks, and in the firestation. During a moment of revelation Montagcomes upon an interesting idea about fire and the burning of books that takesplace. He states, “the sun burnt every day. It burnt time.
. . So if he burntthings with the firemen and the sun burnt Time, that meant that everythingburnt! One of them had to stop burning. The sun wouldn’t, certainly”(141). With this comment Montag realizes that he can no longer be a book burner,but that he has to preserve books. After this revelation, Montag happens uponfire once again.
“That small motion, the white and red color, a strangefire because it meant a different thing to him. It was not burning. It waswarming . . . He hadn’t known fire could look this way” (145-46).
Montagwas now seeing fire as a nourishing, life giving flame. The title of the thirdpart of the book, “Burning Bright”, shows that even while the city isstill burning brightly from the war’s destruction, the spirit of all the exilemen is also burning brightly. This signifies a future of hope and optimism. Throughout Fahrenheit 451 Montag goes through a transformation from book burnerto book preserver. Montag mirrors the path taken by one of prisoners inPlato’s Allegory of the Cave.
The prisoner went through a metamorphosis fromillusion to wisdom. In the Allegory of the Cave there are many prisoners; allwith their arms, legs, and heads shackled so that they could only look forward. This represents how the totalitarian government in Fahrenheit 451 forceseveryone to see only the government’s beliefs and views. While in this cave,there is a fire above and behind them, and between them and the fire is a wall.
This wall is acting like a screen in a puppet show. There are other men walkingalong the wall carrying statues and carvings of animals which appear over thewall. This symbolizes Montag’s job of burning books and his helping to keepothers in the dark; only showing them what the government wants them to see andknow. The prisoners, like Montag and others in his society, can only see theshadows of the statues along the cave wall, and this is what they believe to bethe truth. Somehow one of the prisoners is able to escape, and at first he is inpain.
Just as Montag escaped the beliefs and views of his society, with the helpfrom Clarisse and Faber. At first, Montag could not and would not accept books,but he began to see the power they had, he began to see the truth. This paincomes from the light (truth), and the prisoner is compelled to look away fromthe light, and to take refuge in the objects which he could see. Once again, theprisoner carries himself towards the cave entrance, and this time he sees thesun.
At first, the sun hurts him also, but the prisoner grows accustomed to thelight. The same way Montag felt when he first learned the truth; it hurt to knowthat all he knew was false, but he began to accept it and he liked it and wantedto share this knowledge with others. After learning the truth of the cave, theprisoner also tries to return to the others that are held captive and free themto show them the truth. However, they only believe what their illusions, and theprisoner is ridiculed, called crazy, and exiled from the cave. This alsohappened to Montag when he tried to share his knowledge with others; such as hiswife, her friends, and Captain Beatty.