In Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451," what is the job of the firemen?  

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Ray Bradbury's science fiction novel Farhenheit 451, the job of the firemen is to burn books.  Whenever a citizen is discovered to be in possession of books, for example, through discovery of a hidden library, the fire department is summoned to the scene.  The novel's protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman, and it is through his personal transformation, through his interaction with the teenager, Clarisse McClellan, that he comes to oppose the political system that enslaves the minds of the masses and controls their knowledge through the elimination of sources of information -- in effect, through the elimination of books.

Bradbury sets his book in a dystopian future, and the role of the firemen is clearly referenced in the opening paragraph of his book:

It Was A Pleasure to Burn

It  was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.  With the brazz nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hand of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history.  With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head...he fliced the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned everything...He knew that when he returned to the firehouse..."

In this opening passage, Bradbury first suggests that the narrator or "protagonist" is a pyromaniac.  Right away, however, details give way to the growing realization that this is a job, and that the job is official, and that this is a fireman.  "451," of course, is the temperature at which paper burns, and the official symbol of the fire department is the mythical Phoenix, a bird that rises, reborn, from the ashes of destruction.