When fireman Montag finally rebels against his job and...
In Fahrenheit 451, author Ray Bradbury depicts a future totalitarian state in which ignorance and distractions are promoted, firemen burn books, and preserving works of literature becomes an act of defiance as well as an assertion of the human spirit.
When fireman Montag finally rebels against his job and escapes to the countryside, he encounters a secret community of rebels. Montag’s act of escaping by river is a literary metaphor referenced from history: he has crossed the Rubicon, a final decision from which there is no turning back.
Granger, the leader of this group of exiled intellectuals, explains to Montag their process of memorizing chapters from the books that had been destroyed:
Each man had a book he wanted to remember, and did. Then, over a period of twenty years or so, we met each other, traveling, and got the loose network together and set out a plan… We’re nothing more than dust jackets for books…
Granger further explains how each person is a chapter and a network of people becomes a book; he hopes that one day, the books they carry in their memories can be written again. Although it seems a futile task on the surface, Granger emphasizes the value of their work.
Montag and the exiles then watch in horror as the city is destroyed in a nuclear attack. Knocked down by the shock waves produced by the bomb, Montag holds onto his memories and realizes he can recall parts of Ecclesiastes.
In a discussion over breakfast the next morning, Granger references a Greek myth:
There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up. He must have been first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did.
The myth of the phoenix represents the cycle of personal and societal destruction and renewal. Individuals are born, then pass away; societies rise, then fall.
As Granger explained to Montag, the job of the exiles is to keep works of literature alive by memorizing them and passing them down, in hopes of a future renewal. He further relates that unlike the bird, people have consciousness and intent and can break the cycle. People have the capacity to learn from their mistakes, no matter how destructive.
The final scenes in the 1966 film version of the book by French director François Truffaut depict the exiles memorizing and quoting from the books they are assigned to.