What is the significance of the ending of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451?
In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, the ending has significant messages for its reader.
In this futuristic society, Montag is a fireman, and instead of putting out fires, these men start them—burning books and homes with books in order to control the populace, stamping out curiosity and the original thought. Montag meets Clarisse one day, who notices everything that most people have forgotten: things as simple as the dew on the early morning grass. And she ask questions: lots of them. Montag is the prime candidate to be intrigued by Clarisse's unusual behavior: he has already started hoarding books and asking himself questions.
Clarisse is killed, and it is attributed a car accident, but with her independent thinking, one is left to wonder if she wasn't killed for her dangerous behavior and influence on others.
Montag feels that he has lost his wife to brain-numbing television programming controlled by society. She likes her life and eventually turns Montag in for the madness that has erupted from him for the want of books: like the eruption of fire from his flame thrower that destroys everything in his path...including her comfortable desensitization.
Bradbury takes the materials of pulp fiction and transforms them into a visionary parable of a society gone awry, in which firemen burn books and the state suppresses learning. Meanwhile, the citizenry sits by in a drug-induced and media-saturated indifference.
By the end of the story, Montag has killed his boss over the burning of books, and ultimately the burning of Montag's own house. Montag is on the run and makes it to the woods and the water, where the Hound loses Montag's scent.
There Montag meets with other people like himself: those who want to know the past, to read and discuss what they have read. And as the men walk through the woods, the government drops bombs and destroys their society. However as they move through the trees, their commitment is to make sure that they remember these events, continue to read, to learn, and to gather others who read and remember—rising as Granger puts it, like the mythical Phoenix who is reborn from the ashes.
There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up. He must have been first cousin to Man. But 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...
In this way, the men hold onto a hope that they will be able to rebuild. The reader understands that knowledge is essential to live a full life, and to avoid repeating the mistakes of years gone by. It is not important that everyone agrees, as much as that people think, have discussions and grow as individuals. Whereas the government sees knowledge as a danger, paradoxically, knowledge—in books—is that which allows society to evolve and remain healthy. These are the book's messages.
The ending of this novel is very significant because it points towards both an ending but also a beginning. Having escaped the society which has so oppressed him and others, Montag has reached a group who are similarly inclined and seek to preserve books through their memory. Yet, as the city is destroyed in a series of bombs, Granger recalls the legend of the phoenix, the bird who burnt himself up then came back to life out of its ashes. In the same way, it is suggested, society, which has just been burnt down dramatically by the bombs, can be built up again in a new and better form . It is highly significant that the novel ends with Montag remembering two bits of scripture:
To everything there is a season. Yes. A time to break down, and a time to build up. Yes. A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.
This reference to the Book of Eclesiastes in the Bible indicates that now is obviously a time to build up and to speak. Montag and his new friends are precisely the kind of people who are able to contribute to the rebuilding of society because of the way that they have preserved the thoughts and ideas of humanity. In addition, the final quote from the Book of Revelation points towards the "healing of the nations," and the hope with which the novel ends is here suggested as we imagine society being rebuilt with the knowledge that is contained in books well and truly and the centre.