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Fahrenheit 451


Part 1 - Summary
Part 1 - Interpretation
Part 2 - Summary
Part 2 - Interpretation
Part 3 - Summary
Part 3 - Interpretation



Part 3 - Interpretation

The last part of the book is entitled “Burning Bright”, part of the first line of William Blake’s famous poem. This can symbolize many things in this part of the book.  Certainly, Montag’s home burns brightly in the flames of incineration, and then so does Beatty. Later on the city burns bright, as it is destroyed by the enemy bombs. All these symbols represent evil and destruction, and Blake suggests this in his poem - that the tiger is an evil creature whose full extent or symmetry is difficult to comprehend. There is, however, a deeper and more permanent meaning to this, and Bradbury is suggesting that the future for Montag and the other suppressed thousands looks bright.

Up until now, the reader has had a distinct picture of Captain Beatty, but the circumstances concerning his death raise an element of doubt about his totally evil fa'ade. The reader gets the impression that Beatty is fighting with his conscience, as he does not really want to arrest Montag. Although he taunts Montag, this is done through the means of quotes from literature, for example, “Old Montag wanted to fly near the sun and now that he’s burnt his damn wings, he wonders why.”  This is a reference to the flight of Icarus.  If Beatty was totally loyal to the system, he would not have given Montag warnings about his behavior.

The first question is why he decides to come on this callout.  Surely this is not to torment Montag, for there will have been other occasions when firemen have gone astray.  Perhaps deep down he is tired of his existence as well, and is unhappy, and can no longer justify his actions in destroying books. He, himself, said that a little learning is a dangerous thing. His intention may be to use Montag as a tool for his own destruction.  Perhaps he seeks suicide and will goad Montag into being his unwitting tool. However, it isn’t the most pleasant way to die, and he may think that Montag is incapable of doing this deed.  What he does not know is Faber’s part in this episode, and when he discovers this and threatens to track Faber down, this is what sparks Montag into pulling the trigger.

What do you think?

It has also been a crucial time for Millie.  She is faced with the dilemma of siding with her husband or her television family, and she chooses the latter. After informing the authorities and waiting for their arrival, she speedily leaves the scene in a taxi, presumably for a hotel where she can resume watching the screen.  The description of Millie as she leaves the scene is symbolic.  Her face is powdered white, her lips colorless, and her body stiff, symbolizing the corpse which she will soon become.

However, the character that undergoes the greatest transformation is of course, Montag.  During this part he is reborn and discovers the joys of freedom and the stimulation of like-minded individuals.  He also loses his rashness, and through quick and clear thinking, is able to escape the scene and the city whilst safeguarding his friend, Faber. 

Like the phoenix, Montag passes through fire in order to obtain resurrection.  He has become the total rebel, and even has the presence of mind to at least condemn one fellow fireman, Black, before he leaves the city. 

Bradbury gives us further insight into this soulless society.  Montag’s escape is being televised and this has two purposes. Firstly this is to entertain, and secondly, it is a warning to the people of what can happen if you step out of line.  The conclusion of this program is never in doubt. If they don’t actually catch Montag himself, they will get someone else as a stand-in. 

Like ‘Big Brother’ the authorities are aware of what their citizens get up to, and the chase is led to where an innocent nonconformist will be walking. He now becomes Montag and will be sacrificed in his stead.

There is a parallel theme between what Montag has gone through from fire to freedom, and that which the society will go through, from war to enlightenment - at least that is the hope.

Bradbury turns the story into a real thriller while Montag is being pursued. Our hero is placed in a very difficult situation from which there seems no hope of escape.  The reader anticipates what is going to happen - the destruction of Montag’s home, the books he has saved, and the capture of Faber arising perhaps out of Montag’s torture by the authorities.  However, it is in fact Captain Beatty that gives Montag a glimmer of hope by forcing him to burn his own home.  Using the flame-thrower, this tool of destruction, he murders Beatty, but he still has the task of escaping the city.

Bradbury writes in various obstacles making this task difficult for our hero. 

Firstly, it is the Mechanical Hound. Then it is the crazy drivers on the Boulevard. If Montag had not tripped at a vital time, he would have been run over.  Fate is on his side. The suspense is further heightened by the introduction of another specially trained Mechanical Hound to replace the one destroyed by Montag.

Our hero then has the problem of escaping whilst ensuring that Faber is safe.  Much to the frustration of the reader. Montag stops off to implicate one of his fellow firemen, whilst the reader just wants him to escape the city.

Finally, Montag makes it to the river and escapes to the countryside and relative safety.

The character of Grainger, serves as a foil for Captain Beatty. 

He is part of a community that preserves the contents of books before they are destroyed by fire. They possess no books apart from those that are being consigned to memory. The members of the group are the books, and in this way signify their rebellion against the system. 

As you might expect, most of these outcasts are well-educated, being former professors, doctors etc. They have their own technology to combat the likes of Beatty and the Mechanical Hound.  Grainger has the means to change the chemical makeup of sweat, and they are able to reintroduce long-forgotten techniques such as total memory recall. 

The reader should not forget the part played in this story by Clarisse.  She was the one that inspired Montag into reexamining his life and that of his wife. In fact Clarisse acts as a foil for Mildred.  Just as Clarisse inspired Montag, so he now inspires Faber to be more than a pseudo-rebel - to be an activist. He leaves the city for St. Louis in order to help the cause.

The Mechanical Hound is the real science fiction ingredient of this story, part alive, part machine, half dog, half spider, a concoction of copper wire, storage batteries, and blue electricity. It is an ever-present menace throughout the book.  It carries a lethal sting in the form of a four-inch hollow steel needle, containing morphine or procaine. Once it has your scent, it will track you down and eliminate you. It is a development from other such evil creatures, which are found throughout mythology. 

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