What is the meaning of the river in Fahrenheit 451?

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At the end of Fahrenheit 451, when Guy Montag is fleeing capture and his old life, he comes to and crosses a river. The river has many potential interpretations in the story, but there are three that seem to be the most supported by the text.

The most literal...

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At the end of Fahrenheit 451, when Guy Montag is fleeing capture and his old life, he comes to and crosses a river. The river has many potential interpretations in the story, but there are three that seem to be the most supported by the text.

The most literal interpretation would simply view the river as Guy's method of finally eluding capture. From the moment Guy flees, the Mechanical Hound is sent to pursue him. However, once Guy comes to the river and crosses, he masks his scent well enough that the Mechanical Hound gives up the chase. Therefore, the river provides a tangible salvation for Guy as he continues on his journey to find the other "outliers."

To take the idea of "salvation" a step further, the reader could easily argue that crossing the river is symbolic of a sort of "baptism" into his new life. Having lived under the influence of the dystopian culture for so long, Guy's choice to leave that culture in pursuit of an unknown life mimics what is represented through a Christian baptism. Since the novel is filled with allusions, and Biblical allusions in particular, Guy's "baptism" in the river, which leads to his rebirth as an individual not controlled by society, is an appropriate interpretation.

Another interpretation could focus on the dichotomy between Guy's former job as a fireman, who, in the novel, is expected to set fires, and the water of the river. These two elements are obviously opposed to each other and thus could represent the vast difference in lifestyle that Guy is about to discover once he crosses the river, leaving the "fire" behind.

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