An example of a metaphor is the machine that pumps people’s stomachs is called a snake.
A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things where one thing is called by the other thing’s name. In other words, if I say, “her hair was straw,” I am comparing her hair to straw. I did not say it was “like straw,” I said that it “was straw.” That is the difference between a simile (“like”) and a metaphor.
One of the most powerful metaphors in the book is the “snake” that pumps people’s stomachs when the commit suicide. Suicide is very common in Montag’s world, because people are generally unhappy. When his wife commits suicide, he compares the machine that tries to save her to a snake.
He tried to count how many times she swallowed and he thought of the visit from the two zinc-oxide-faced men with the cigarettes in their straight-lined mouths and the electronic-eyed snake winding down into the layer upon layer of night and stone and stagnant spring water … (Part 1)
His wife, like most of the people in his society, is “empty.” She does not do much but watch television. Even when she has friends over, they watch television. She considers the family on the screen more important than her own life, and her husband. It is this lonely, empty life that makes suicide so common in Montag’s world.
In addition to helping us picture the machine, the metaphor also helps create a mood. Montag compares the machine to something most of us fear or dislike. It helps create the impression that the machine is not a good thing, and it leaves the reader feeling more and more unsettled. Montag himself seems to fear the machine, and the reader does too.
Another metaphor in the novel is the phoenix. Firemen wear the sign of the phoenix on their uniforms. The mythological phoenix is said to burn and then rise from its own ashes. One might consider this fitting since the bird burns but it is also ironic for the firemen to wear this sign because the phoenix also symbolizes renewal. Near the end of the novel, Granger compares human society and its history to the mythological phoenix:
There was a silly damn bird called a Phoenix back before Christ: every few hundred years he built a pyre and burned 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, but we've got one damn thing the Phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did.
Granger remarks that the Phoenix unknowingly burns and is reborn because that is its nature. Humans could simply continue to develop and evolve; but Granger surmises that humans knowingly destroy themselves (in war and/or by burning books and their history) but eventually find a way to be reborn. It is comforting that humans always find a way to come back but it is also ridiculous that humans would destroy themselves in the first place. Granger dreams of a day when this cycle will stop.