What is a quote in Fahrenheit 451 that symbolizes the Phoenix? Why does it symbolize—the Phoenix?

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The Phoenix appears to be a critical symbol in Fahrenheit 451 , and previous answers have already provided the key quotation on this (see the quote which begins: "There was a silly damn bird called a Phoenix . . ."). To this, I would note that Bradbury also references the...

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The Phoenix appears to be a critical symbol in Fahrenheit 451, and previous answers have already provided the key quotation on this (see the quote which begins: "There was a silly damn bird called a Phoenix . . ."). To this, I would note that Bradbury also references the Phoenix in connection with the firemen (and this isn't insignificant, given the symbology of burning books, along with the image of the phoenix as a burning bird).

As the book opens, when he first encounters Clarisse, she is described as "hypnotized by the salamander on his arm and the phoenix-disc on his chest." Note that these images are quite literally imprinted upon Montag's uniform. Later, Captain Beatty is shown wearing the Phoenix insignia on his hat. I don't think these references are incidental: in many respects, I think the image of the Phoenix is a metaphor which sums up and embodies the core message of Fahrenheit 451, when taken as a whole.

Ultimately, note that Fahrenheit 451 closes on an image of destruction joined with the hope for rebirth. Now, consider that image within the context of the Phoenix mythology itself. In each, death/destruction and birth/creation are closely tied together. The Phoenix dies and is simultaneously reborn from its own ashes. This is precisely what is happening with society as this book comes to a close.

The society of Fahrenheit 451 is one that has been described as a corrupted dystopia across the course of the book. It is a society so caught up in its hedonistic, consumeristic lifestyle that it has lost sight of what is truly ennobling and worthwhile in living the human existence. The entire book follows Montag as he comes to realize the true value of books and the degree to which his own society has erred.

In a way, one might say that the "phoenix metaphor" applies on two separate levels: there's the potential recreation of society as a whole, ushered in through the atomic war which closes the book, but there's also Montag's own internal transformation, ushered in through his own encounters with death—both of Clarisse (his encounter with whom, along with her later disappearance, jump-starts his own crisis of faith with the society that surrounds him) and later the old woman, who burns herself alive with her books. From these experiences, the destroyer of books will be recreated as a protector of them, and his own journey in opposition to the State takes shape.

Thus, I would suggest that the central themes of the phoenix story are actually embedded deeply within the very structure of this book. Fahrenheit 451 is a story where death and redemption are closely intertwined (both for Montag as well as the entire society), and it is in recognition of those themes that Bradbury invokes the image of the phoenix directly towards the end of the book. The image of the Phoenix embodies that key thematic content which carries across the entire work.

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The Phoenix is a bird from Greek mythology that could regenerate or experience rebirth after being burned up. There are a few times in Fahrenheit 451 when books are being burned and they are likened to birds. For example, the first page describes the burning of books as follows:

"He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house" (3).

The above passage is taken while Montag, the protagonist, is burning books as a part of his job as a fireman in a futuristic society that values pleasure over literacy. Firemen are called out to burn people's books, along with their houses, if they are suspected and reported as owning them. During a scene when Montag is shown burning a woman's house, the text uses the symbolic images of birds to describe the books as they burn.

"A book lit, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering. . . like a snowy feather" (37).

By the end of part three, an atomic bomb levels the city. Granger, someone Montag meets outside of the city, speaks of the Phoenix while watching a piece of paper burn in the campfire. Montag asks Granger what a phoenix is and he is told the following:

"There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up. . . 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" (163).

Books are described as dying birds when they are burned, which can be connected to the symbolism of the phoenix. The city is completely destroyed, too. Granger makes the allusion to the phoenix because after all of the fires and bombs, he hopes that people will rise above the ashes and experience a rebirth. He hopes that the next civilization that rises from these ashes will appreciate literacy and bring back books. Granger also says that people are smarter than a phoenix because we can learn from their mistakes; so, his hope is that humanity will grow and become better than the last society that Montag lived in.

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