Fahrenheit 451 Symbols Overview
This novel takes place in an unspecified time as well as in an unspecified city. What we do know is that it takes place in the 24th century and that it takes place in a city.
The few clues given to us indicate that it is probably somewhere in the central United States. The ambiguity of setting serves to send a message to readers that a dystopia of this type could happen at any time and in any place. It warns against a complacency in which assumptions are made that a society like the one in this novel would be a distant and/or impossible future for America.
There are several strong motifs found throughout the narrative of this novel. Paradoxes are a common one—the idea that things are not what one might initially think helps to create a sense of unease. Elements of nature are another strong motif. They symbolize truth and awakening in the face of oppressive forces. Opposite to this motif is that of TV and radio, which symbolizes the pervading forces of oppression in society. The final motif is religion. Religious imagery and Christian references help to show the personal transformation that Montag undergoes as he becomes enlightened to new ideas and possibilities.
Symbols in Fahrenheit 451
Here’s a list of the major symbols in Fahrenheit 451.
- The Electric-Eyed Snake.
- The Salamander and the Phoenix.
- The Dandelion.
- The Hearth.
- Denham’s Dentifrice Ad.
What Does Fire Symbolize in Fahrenheit 451? – Fire symbolizes the oppressive forces of the authorities of the city. Fire is used to destroy books—an oppressive act on the part of the government.
Symbolism of Blood – Blood symbolizes people’s instincts and primal urges. Emotions, for example, are often described of circulating through a person’s body, just a blood does. Mildred has her blood removed when she overdoses on sleeping pills, to be replaced with fresh healthy blood instead. This removes any negativity or responsibility from her and encourages her to carry on as usual.
The Electric-Eyed Snake
The Electric-Eyed Snake – This is the machine used to replace Mildred’s poisoned blood with fresh blood after her overdose of sleeping pills. This machine represents the removal of the misery and self-hatred she possesses, replacing it instead with complacency and delusion. This is ultimately what the authorities want from people in this society—a complete and unchallenged acceptance of the status quo, even if it means that people become unhappy deep down inside.
The Salamander and the Phoenix
Salamander Symbolism – These are symbols worn by the firemen on their uniforms. Ancient civilizations used to believe that salamanders could live in fire and were totally unaffected by the element. Indeed, some salamanders can withstand extreme heat. They serve as a symbol that the fireman should be able to withstand extreme pressures and accept/adapt to what they are dealt. The phoenix is the mythological creature that dies by catching fire and then is reborn from its own ashes. Several times throughout the story, the characters allude to a burgeoning war. Montag and his accomplices express hope that the war will destroy their city so that they can rebuild again, this time with books, art, and philosophy present. This shows the cyclical nature of life, regardless of what happens.
The Dandelion – The dandelion that Clarisse holds to Montag’s chin is supposed to reveal whether or not he is in love. If he is, the dandelion will leave a smudge of pollen on him. When the dandelion does not leave any pollen on Montag, he is embarrassed and begins doing some deep thinking about his situation in life. He feels disconnected from his wife, Mildred, because she is so absorbed in her “TV family.” The dandelion symbolizes the futility of how Montag has been living and highlights the ennui he’s been feeling.
The Hearth – The hearth/fireplace is a traditional symbol of the home—in particular, a warm and welcoming home. The fact that fire symbolizes oppression shows that the hearth, in this case, symbolizes the unnaturalness of what people’s homes have become thanks to the constant presence of radio and/or TV influencing people.
Denham’s Dentifrice Ad
Denham’s Dentifrice Ad – When Montag hears this ad as he travels on the subway, he starts raging and shouting, creating a scene. Several passengers see that he has a book and are uncomfortable with him. This is a turning point for Montag, as he has completely rejected society at this point and is taking action to actively dismantle the status quo.
Mirrors – Mirrors symbolize being able to see oneself clearly and understanding one’s inner thoughts and feelings. This symbol first shows up when Montag describes Clarisse as a mirror. She helps him to see who he is and what he truly feels.