What could the books burning symbolize in Fahrenheit 451? (use quotes from the book as examples please)

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to Beatty, burning books is a way to eliminate the possibility of strife, conflict, or unpleasant feelings. In his explanation to Montag and Mildred, he says that if any book causes any person or group some unpleasant feelings, then that book should be burned. Beatty reasons that if all books are burned, then there is no possibility that anyone will be offended by a book. Also, as a result, with people reading less, they think less. This might decrease debates and arguments but it comes at the cost of knowledge and variety of opinions. Beatty explains how he thinks burning books establishes peace: 

Coloured people don't like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don't feel good about Uncle Tom's Cabin. Burn it. Someone's written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Bum the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. 

That is Beatty's warped position. The general lesson of this novel is that the burning of books symbolizes censorship, the loss of freedom, and the suppression of ideas. Burning books also symbolizes the destruction of creativity. Faber says "Those who don't build must burn." In this novel, the firemen burn books and effectively destroy creative work. Building is associated with creation. It is a contrast of creation versus destruction. 

In terms of imagery, the books resemble birds. "The books leapt and danced like roasted birds, their wings ablaze with red and yellow feathers." Destroying a book is like destroying a bird's ability to fly. If books are burnt, the ideas are snuffed out. Those ideas are less likely to be communicated to many people in many areas. They can not be passed on, shared, and so on. In a very real sense, ideas from books are less likely to travel. Their wings are clipped or "burnt." 

palomardorsey | Student

1. Truth lies within real life experience, not within books of fantasy.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”


2. The burning of books can symbolize the destruction of a soul of an author. If a book is something that can hold a soul, then burning that book also burns that soul.

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.”


3. Burning books destroys our knowledge of the world. Without books, the average man will never know the world.

“The books are to remind us what asses and fool we are. They’re Caeser’s praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, “Remember, Caeser, thou art mortal.” Most of us can’t rush around, talking to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends. The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. Don’t ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.”


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Fahrenheit 451

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