Ray Bradbury’s Use Of Water And Fire Symbolism In Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury’s futuristic Fahrenheit 451 is a science-fiction novel based around symbolism and ulterior ideas. Using symbolism allows Bradbury to get points and messages across to readers. It also allows him to show the story instead of simply tell it. The symbols used throughout the novel give it differing yet specific tones. Bradbury implies the idea that too much governmental influence can be negative through the use of symbolism.

Water and fire are symbols commonly used in many types of literature, and Bradbury does not hesitate to include them in his novel. The two elements symbolize the government’s effect on the mentality of the citizens in Guy Montag’s society. One can think of the government’s influence as a circle of fire. On the inside, where those who live in the city reside, no outside harm can enter, but the fire is still capable of manipulating those inside. Those inside the circle see no problem, and can become infatuated with the fire. They may even find pleasure in how it burns things, just as Montag did (Bradbury 1). Those infatuated with fire are the firemen. However, the outside of the circle is the classic inferno. It will quickly engulf anything that poses even the slightest threat, either eliminating the threat or pushing it through to the inside of the circle where it will see no harm. If one escapes the fire, escaping the influence of the government, one will find water. The water represents clarity and individuality — everything the government does not want anyone to feel. It also represents the change in Montag as the government no longer controls him, shown when “after a long time of floating ... he knew that he must never burn again”. It was further shown when Montag “felt as if he had left the great séance”, which symbolizes the government, “and all the murmuring ghosts”, symbolizing the society controlled by the government. Having no depth or individuality, society had been reduced to nothing except murmurs.

Although the jets are literally controlled by the government, they also represent the hold the government has on society through conflict. The constant screaming of the jets, a “tremendous ripping sound as if two giant hands had torn the sky” represent both internal and external conflict the citizens suffer. Furthermore, the jets themselves simply reinforce the authority of the government. The bombings caused by the jets, like the destruction of the city, symbolize what will happen if we let ourselves be controlled by something else — in the novel, it is specifically the government. If one tries to control everything, it will end with dire consequences.

The government uses technology — and the lack thereof — to control society’s thoughts. For instance, when Mildred got to participate in the play on TV, her answers were short and non-questioning. When asked if she agreed, she said she did and provided no reason as to why. If she had said no, she would have had to explain why. If the government had not, in short, brain-washed society, her answers would have had more depth. Had books not been banned, Mildred would have been able to question things and think for herself and provide deep answers. Books gave information to people and the ability to form ideas and arguments. Books have “quality ... and they have texture”. After reading books, one has “the right to carry out actions based on what we learn in books”. Without books, one is unable to question anything or to make arguments. The ability to think for oneself slowly disappears, leaving one with the need to be told what and what not to do. This need, and the lack of individuality and depth, will ultimately destroy anyone and all of society.

Bradbury implies the idea that too much governmental influence can be negative through the symbolization of water and fire, the bomber jets, and technology. The elements of water and fire symbolize this by showing that total government control over its citizens can be dangerous. The jets symbolize it by showing the conflict and violence that governmental control can lead to. Finally, technology — and the lack thereof —  symbolize it by showing how mindless people will become when they simply do what they are told. Total control is dangerous and one cannot survive with it. 

16 December 2021
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