What is the symbolic meaning of "the salamander devours its tail"?Faber states that when books are found in the homes of firemen, it is going to be like "the salamander devours its tail"*detailed...

What is the symbolic meaning of "the salamander devours its tail"?

Faber states that when books are found in the homes of firemen, it is going to be like "the salamander devours its tail"

*detailed explanations + quotes and examples

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Expert Answers
teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Faber fuses two mythological images in this statement. Salamanders were understood in many traditions to be able to survive in fires without being burned. Some believe this is because salamanders, who would sleep under rotting wood, would sometimes jump out of fires. This is also why the symbol of the firemen in the novel is the salamander.

Snakes, but not salamanders, were known to swallow their own tails. The image of the snake swallowing its own tail is called Ouroboros. It is a symbol of bringing opposites together.

Faber shows he has done some reading when he fuses together the two images. When he says this in the context of firemen owning books, he is saying that the salamander (e.g. the fireman) reading or owning books brings opposites together. It brings opposites together, because firemen are supposed to destroy books, not possess them. Their whole purpose for being is to keep people from reading. Therefore, if they have books, they devour or swallow themselves, for they are violating their meaning for being.

When Montag tries to talk to Faber about a plan to bring books into the world, Faber says the only plan he will listen to is this one:

Now if you suggest that we print extra books and arrange to have them hidden in firemen's houses all over the country, so that seeds of suspicion would be sown among these arsonists, bravo, I'd say!

Faber says the above jokingly, but Montag takes him seriously. This causes Faber to say:

"It's an insidious plan, if I do say so myself." Faber glanced nervously at his bedroom door. "To see the firehouses burn across the land, destroyed as hotbeds of treason. The salamander devours his tail! Ho, God!"

Faber is saying he is impressed at the audacity of a plan that would destroy book burning by destroying the lives of the people who burn the books through planting books in their homes.

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The salamander is the symbolic name that the fireman give to the fire truck and the symbol for the fireman, himself.  Therefore, if books are found in the home of a fireman, it is self-destructive.  The implements of destruction, in this case, fire, becomes the means by which the salamander actually destroys himself.

The salamander devours his tail is the means that Faber sees as the only way that the society is going to change, the firemen have to change from within.  Just like Montag is a convert, who turns away from his 10 year job as a destroyer of books, he is now a revolutionary who will seek the truth and be part of creating a new society.

The symbol of fire as a means of cleansing and rebirth will have a new meaning as the old society is literally burned off, a new brighter one will rise from the ashes like the phoenix.

Read the study guide:
Fahrenheit 451

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