Metaphors In Fahrenheit 451

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is a science-fiction novel full of all kinds of figurative language, including metaphors. A metaphor is an implied comparison between two unlike things, such as calling a cold room a freezer or a classroom a prison cell.

In part one of this novel, it does not take long to discover the first metaphor; in fact, it can be found in the second sentence of the story. 

Though we do not know his name yet, we know that a fireman is taking great pleasure in doing his job of burning things--books, to be more specific. Guy Montag is described this way:

With the brass 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 hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history.

Unlike a typical fireman, Montag has a hose which spews kerosene to start fires rather than water to douse them. In this case, the nozzle is compared to a "great python spitting its venomous kerosene" onto another pile of books.

Though Montag is a fireman who is, oddly enough, destroying things with fire, his actions are metaphorically compared to those of a conductor who uses his hands to orchestrate a great symphony of burning; the burning pile of books is also compared to a symphony of "blazing and burning."

Later, on his way home, Montag meets a young girl who we learn later is seventeen-year-old Clarisse McClellan. She tells him she does not mind the smell of kerosene, like so many other people do. He responds to her observation this way:

"Kerosene," he said, because the silence had lengthened, "is nothing but perfume to me."

Here the metaphor compares the smell of kerosene to the smell of a perfume, an unlikely comparison to be sure except for a man who uses kerosene routinely to make his living.

When Montag looks at Clarisse, he metaphorically describes her this way:

Her face, turned to him now, was fragile milk crystal

When Montag arrives home, he is faced with the unpleasant image of his wife splayed out on the bed. She is a sharp contrast to the vibrant young girl he has just been talking to, and then he discovers that his wife, Mildred, has taken an overdose of sleeping pills.

The paramedics arrive and use machines to pump her stomach, something they do routinely nine or ten times each night. One of the machine operators describes today's world (the "today" of this dystopian novel, anyway) in this way:

"Well, after all, this is the age of the disposable tissue. Blow your nose on a person, wad them, flush them away, reach for another, blow, wad, flush."

This metaphor compares human beings to tissues (kleenex). He asserts that people, like tissues, are disposable. They can easily be used, wadded up, and flushed away like used-up tissue. When one person is used up, one simply reaches for another and repeats the process.

This novel is full of figurative language, including metaphors, and they are easy to find once you start looking for them.

For more helpful insights about this novel, check out the excellent eNotes references linked below.

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