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Fahrenheit 451


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



Questions for study with ideas for answers

Q: Bradbury makes a connection between Guy Montag and the phoenix bird. 

Expand on this.


The phoenix is a mythological bird of the Middle East, and the story is that after five hundred years, it constructs a nest or pyre of spices upon which it perches and sings until the nest is ignited by sunlight. The fire consumes the bird, and from the ashes a worm crawls and develops into the next phoenix.

‘Fahrenheit 451’ tells of Montag’s sojourn through this transformation.  The nest can be symbolized as the pile of books that Montag has burned over the ten years he has been a fireman, but he is unable to rise like the phoenix because he hasn’t the means to improve himself intellectually. He needs help in fully understanding the books he has saved, and it is Faber who is able to bring about his rebirth.

We recall that when Montag leaves the river, he feels that he has been resurrected. The finished product of an enlightened individual is finally created through Grainger’s influence.

Q: Bradbury uses animal symbolism throughout the book.

Please provide examples.


There is the image of books turning into birds with the reference to “pigeon-winged books”.

Much of the firemen’s equipment is symbolized through animals. The fire hose is described as “this great python”.  The firemen wear “black beetle-coloured helmets”.  The truck is called “a salamander”.  The myth behind the salamander is that it is able to survive fire.

When the technician’s call to pump Millie’s stomach they use a device called “a black cobra”, and the operators are described as having the “eyes of puff adders”.

The headphones are described as “electronic bees”.

Reference is made to Blake’s poem about a tiger, the tiger being a symbol of an evil world.

Q: Bradbury never lets the reader forget the importance of literature, and he has woven into the plot numerous quotations, or references to literary figures.

Please give some examples with their relevance to the story.


The very first quotation in the book is from the Spanish poet, Jim'nez, “If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.”  This provides the main theme of the book, and that is to challenge authority. 

“We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” Apparently Bishop Latimer said this to Bishop Ridley as they were burned at the stake for being Protestants in Queen Mary’s Catholic England. Beatty recites this as perhaps a challenge to Montag for him to make a move to light his own candle, and make a similar historic gesture. Perhaps Beatty realizes that despite all his efforts, he is unable to extinguish the candle that represents literature.  As will be seen later, Grainger has developed a system that enables the light of books to be passed down from man-to-man.  The books are retained in people’s memories.

“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed '' so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.”  This comes from James Boswell’s ‘Life of Dr. Johnson’ published in 1791, and this quote helps Montag realize the relevance of his relationship with Clarisse.  She has brought some happiness into his life unselfishly. 

“Consider the lilies of the field. They toil not, neither do they sow or reap '' yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”  This is from St. Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 6, and Montag recalls this in his surreal journey to Faber’s house in Part 2 of the book.  He is going to seek Faber’s help in satisfying his spiritual hunger, and his desire to improve his understanding of the written word in his possession.

“Who are a little wise, the best fools be.”  This is taken from John Donne’s poem, ‘The Triple Fool’, and the well-read Beatty uses this to unsettle Montag.  Beatty hurls several more quotations at Montag in this scene coming from Isaiah Chapter 53, and also from Shakespeare’s ‘Measure for Measure’ Act V “Truth is truth, to the end of reckoning.”

Reference is made to Greek mythology in Part 3 of the book when Montag is discovered by Beatty.  Beatty suggests that Montag is like Icarus, the son of Daedalus, an inventor. He constructs wings for his son made of feathers and wax, and when he flies too near to the sun, these melt and he falls into the sea and drowns.

During Beatty’s goading of Montag in Part 3, he quotes from Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ Act IV, “There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats, for I am arm’d so strong in honesty that they pass by me as an idle wind which I respect not.” 

Grainger describes his group of outcasts as those “crying in the wilderness”.  This refers to Isaiah’s prediction concerning John the Baptist.

The last quotation in the book is as shown above at the end of the Summary.  This is a prophecy from Chapter 22 of the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. Bradbury suggests that this prophecy is yet to come to fruition, for people have still to enjoy equality and freedom throughout the world.

Q: To give effect, Bradbury uses paradox as a tool.

Give some examples.


In this society, firemen do not put out fires and rescue people. They start fires.  They burn the books and people’s houses as a form of censorship, and as a deterrent, and to encourage people to conform.

Normally fire is considered to be a force of evil. We refer to hell as being a place of fiery furnaces and unbearable heat. In this society, fire is considered to be a symbol of goodness.  It cleanses society of nonconformist thoughts that stem from literature. Fire is used to eradicate the evil of books. It is a crude form of censorship and there is no room for compromise.  All books and other forms of literature must be destroyed.

In our society, dogs are regarded as man’s best friend.  They assist him in his work and also make good companions.  The Mechanical Hound is a distortion of this concept.  It has no friends.  It is a hideous crossbreed of technology and creature.  Its function is to track down and destroy those that don’t fit in with society, and also books.

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