Hyperbole is the use of extreme exaggeration for the purpose of creating a desired effect. The author fully intends that his readers recognize a hyperbolic statement as a figure of speech, and as readers we willingly go along for the ride in order to experience the effect, whether it be amusement, shock, disdain, wonder, admiration, you name it. Ray Bradbury does a very entertaining job with hyperbole in Fahrenheit 451, usually for the purpose of highlighting his themes.
In section one, “The Hearth and the Salamander,” Bradbury gives us an overwhelming taste of Montag’s home life as he gets bombarded by the T.V. walls Millie is watching in the parlor. Bradbury's description almost lets us experience it with Montag here:
A great thunderstorm of sound gushed from the walls. Music bombarded him at such an immense volume that his bones were almost shaken from his tendons; he felt his jaw vibrate, his eyes wobble in his head. He was a victim of concussion...whirled in a centrifuge, and spat out over a waterfall that fell and fell into an emptiness…
Clearly an exaggeration, right? But as readers, instead of sarcastically saying, “Yeah, right,” like we might when a friend hypes up a story, we enjoy the exaggerated description. We may even relate to it, imagining that concert where we could feel the bass vibrating in our entire body. And we get what Bradbury is showing us: Montag is a victim of his own house. These T.V. walls have taken over his living room, and his wife loves them—more than she loves him. Through this hyperbole we experience the themes of the broken relationship and the artificiality resulting from materialism.
Montag’s resulting feelings towards his wife are evident in the next hyperbole, when he is lying sick in bed and Millie is unsympathetically standing over him, only wanting him to go to work and make more money for a fourth T.V. wall.
He...saw her without opening his eyes, her hair burnt by chemicals to a brittle straw, her eyes with a kind of cataract unseen but suspect far behind the pupils...the body as thin as a praying mantis from dieting, and her flesh like white bacon.
By overstating the effects of an artificial life on a 30-something woman, Bradbury nudges us towards his deeper message that a materialistic life isolates us from our own humanity. The use of hyperbole allows him to present these ideas without sounding preachy, while entertaining us in the process.