In "Fahrenheit 451," what is the symbolism of rain, trembling, and the color gray?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Rain symbolizes change and transformation. As the novel opens, two changes occur in Montag's life. He meets and has a moment genuine connection in the street with the young Clarisse. At the same time, his wife, Mildred, attempts to kill herself. As Montag thinks:

Was it only an hour ago, Clarisse McClellan in the street, and him coming in, and the dark room and his foot kicking the little crystal bottle? Only an hour, but the world had melted down and sprung up in a new and colourless form.

Montag likens the way these various episodes are making him think to drops of rain. Each one is not much in itself but together they add up to a questioning of how he his leading his life. He is being "melted down" and transformed. He is beginning to realize that something is badly amiss in his existence. Why is he so enlivened by a simple conversation with a teenage girl in the street? Why does his wife want to die?

One drop of rain. Clarisse. Another drop. Mildred. A third. The uncle. A fourth. The fire tonight. One, Clarisse. Two, Mildred. . . . One, Mildred, two, Clarisse.

Gray symbolizes the dull, monotonous, and superficial world in which Montag lives. His trembling is a symbol of his inner conflict between conformity to the life he knows and the desire to break away from his culture and pursue a radical path that involves embracing books:

He felt his body divide itself into a hotness and a coldness, a softness and a hardness, a trembling and a not trembling, the two halves grinding one upon the other.

All three images—rain, grayness, and trembling, come together when Montag turns off the television screens and reads. He reads from a book to Mildred:

"'We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over, so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.'"

Montag sat listening to the rain. "Is that what it was in the girl next door? I've tried so hard to figure."

"She's dead. Let's talk about someone alive, for goodness's sake."

Montag did not look back at his wife as he went trembling along the hall to the kitchen, where he stood a long time watching the rain hit the windows before he came back down the hall in the grey light, waiting for the tremble to subside.

This is a moment of change for Montag. The rain represents the transformation he is undergoing into a person who will reject his society, the trembling represents the struggle this is for him, and the color gray represents his bleak society, lifeless behind the fake, bright TV shows he has just turned off.

leospengler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Good question! In Fahrenheit 451's first section, Montag encounters Clarisse walking around in the rain. When running away from the mechanical hound near the novel's end, Montag asks Faber to turn on the sprinklers in the hope that the hound will lose his scent. In each instance, rain, though artificial in Faber's case, is associated with characters who value meaningful conversation and independent thought. Rain then symbolizes rebirth and redemption, for these are characters who Montag wishes to emulate. Rain here is also juxtaposed with the central, destructive element of fire, which helps establish an opposition between Beatty and the other firemen and Clarisse and Faber.

Montag's trembling reveals his deep, at first subconscious anxiety. With his trembling, he begins to realize that he is uncomfortable in his occupation of book burning, and that he will soon be forced to decide between continuing to burn books or to break the law and collect books himself. It also represents his constant fears, first that something is wrong with his life and then later that he will be caught with the books.

Finally, the color grey represents the dull, lifeless character of the world Montag inhabits. Grey is the color of overcast or stormy skies and thereby represents bleakness, sadness, and cold. Compare this image to the colorful image of multi-colored flowers blooming in spring! The constant portrayal of Montag's world as grey is juxtaposed with the color of his hidden books: "He kept moving his hand and dropping books, small ones, fairly large ones, yellow, red, green ones." For Bradbury then, books bring warmth and comfort into the world.

For further information, please check out the eNotes guide to Fahrenheit 451!

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to the author of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, rain can either represent the character's inner mood and thoughts or it can symbolize a catharsis--a new beginning for that character.  When Montag is running for his life away from the hound and toward the literates who have memorized books for a future time, it is raining.  It probably is a little of both--Montag has lost his life as he knows it, his wife, and he has murdered his former boss.  He probably is a little depressed about all that despite the fact that he is now free.  The rain is also a catharsis for him--he has to be looking forward to a time when he can talk about the past and books he's read and his hopes for a future with books and freedom of thought/speech.

Trembling and the color gray are also signs of depression or inner turmoil.