Discussion Topic

Allegories and allusions in Fahrenheit 451 and their significance to major themes


In Fahrenheit 451, allegories such as the Phoenix symbolize rebirth and society's cyclical nature, while allusions to historical and literary works emphasize the importance of knowledge and individual thought. These elements highlight major themes like censorship, the consequences of conformity, and the transformative power of literature.

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What are some allegories in Fahrenheit 451 and their significance?

Fire is a prominent allegory in a book about book burning.  In the beginning of the book, fire is quite destructive.  It is used to destroy physical books yes, but book burning represents so much more.  With the destruction of the books comes a destruction of historical knowledge, ideas, concepts, teachings, philosophies, etc.  Beatty loves burning the books, because in his opinion they represent a whole host of contradictory meanings.  Beatty does not like that.  Other fire references come in the form of anger.  Anger has a tendency to make people "burn with rage."  

Later in the novel though, Montag learns that fire is not only destructive, but can be beneficial.  After he escapes from the hound, Montag is warmed by the fire.  It's not used to hurt, maim, and destroy, but to illuminate and heal.  What's great about this realization is that it brings fire back to what Beatty hates so much about books.  Beatty can't stand that books don't give a clear cut answer and are so full of contradiction.  Fire, being both constructive and destructive, shows that it (like books) are open for interpretation and multiple uses.  Think Yin and Yang. 

Another allegorical reference are the animal-like machines.  Stomach pumping machine like a snake, helicopters like insects, etc.  In each case, it's a man made machine trying to mimic nature.  Perhaps it's a comment on how destructive technologies are upsetting the natural balance of things.  Maybe another Yin and Yang concept? 

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Which allusion in Fahrenheit 451 is significant to a major theme, and why?

One of the most important allusions to my mind in this book is the words that the lady who chooses to burn herself with the books rather than be taken from them at the beginning of the novel. She quotes words said by Latimer and Ridley, who were burnt alive for heresy because of their refusal to agree with Catholicism during the rule of Mary Tudor, or Bloody Queen Mary, as she was known. Note what the woman says, deliberately drawing a parallel between her own situation and that of Latimer and Ridley:

Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.

Ultimately, of course, Latimer was right, as their sacrifice helped to raise public discontent with Catholicism and with Mary's reign, so that after her death, her much more moderate sister, Elizabeth I, adopted Protestantism and some of the reforms that Latimer and Ridley believed were necessary. The woman in this novel by quoting these words therefore hopes that her sacrifice will be a catalyst towards a change that will take place in her society. She is right, as it is her suicide that prompts Montag to do some serious soul searching about what is so important about books:

"You weren't there, you didn't see," he said. "There must be something in books, things we can't imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don't stay for nothing."

This shows how the memory of this woman burning herself for books impacted Montag so deeply that he begins to think about what must be so important about books, and whether books are worth risking your life for. It is this act of suicide that ultimately leads Montag to defy the state and to run away himself to be part of a rebel movement that hopes to continue the printed word, albeit in another form.

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