The novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is one of the most significant books in the modern literature. Many scholars put the novel on a par with the famous dystopias of the XX century, such as Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and 1984 by George Orwell. Prior to the publication of Fahrenheit 451, the fiction genre was easy and superficial. According to the authors Harold Bloom and Blake Hobby, “Bradbury’s evocative and lyrical style charges Fahrenheit 451 with a sense of mystery and connotative depth that go beyond the normal boundaries of dystopian fiction”. Ray Bradbury creates a dystopia, in the plot of which, there is a dispassionate look at the society of the future that reminds the present. There is the same attempt to send a person on the right path to happiness, which consists in the area of the ruthless negation of everything negative in the modern civilization, in particular, the relation to the spiritual culture. The main idea of the novel 451 Fahrenheit is that fiction is a surrounding reality driven to the point of absurdity. The aim of the paper is to analyze and study the symbolism of the novel 451 Fahrenheit.
Analysis of the Novel Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury is considered a science fiction writer who depicts the future in his novels. It is amazing how relevant the distant future of Bradbury in modern days is. The writer blames the technological progress in these woes. According to Ray Bradbury, this progress pushes people to the accelerated rhythm of life. Moreover, the government also plays an important role in this process. It has set the standard of living - more fun and fewer thoughts in the minds of the citizens. According to the government, people should not be interested in history, politics, and the surrounding world. Therefore, the government invents an idea – to burn all books. As a result, people degrade in their spiritual development, and their memory deteriorates. People can hardly be called human beings. They live in a contrived TV world. They are herded into the framework of stereotypes. However, the protagonist managed to go beyond these frames. Clarisse McClellan helped him with this. However, Clarisse’s death became the fracture in the concept of democracy when freedom of speech, freedom of choice, and equality of all people are proclaimed. Many researchers of the analysis of the novel Fahrenheit 451 quoted the words of Heinrich Heine: “Where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people as well”.
Religion in the Novel
Fahrenheit 451 is a story of the spiritual formation of Guy Montag – a fireman, whose profession is to confiscate and burn banned books. Like most of his fellow citizens, he divides his life between work and insulation in the house, being indifferent to everything except for TV. Guy Montag’s awakening from “sleep” occurs when he meets a young girl, Clarisse McClellan. Clarisse is not like everyone. She is a type of the so-called natural person who is not adapted to the technocratic civilization. Clarisse raises great interest in Montag. Ned Bustard notes, “Clarisse’s reverent love for nature changes Montag when she gets him to taste the rain”. She becomes like a spiritual guide for him, forcing to think critically about the surrounding existence. She does not try to argue with Montag and impose her opinion. She only asks questions and states the facts, paying attention of her interlocutor to such things as life, culture, art, and people. This girl touches some strings in Guy Montag. He cannot work and communicate with his colleagues and wife as before. The absurd death of Clarisse aggravates the situation. Montag seriously thinks about the world, in which he lives. He learns to think. However, in his life, there is a new spiritual mentor – a former professor of the English language. His name is Faber. He is an old-fashioned man and an intellectual. He completes Clarisse’s philosophy. Guy Montag becomes a rebel and an outcast. He leaves the city that lives only in the present day and the petty bustle in anticipation of the nuclear war. Nevertheless, the search for truth has not finished yet. The next step for the fugitive Montag, who has already lost the social status in his familiar world, is solitude against the background of nature. Loneliness has become a catharsis and purification for Guy Montag.
The period of wandering symbolizes the final break of the protagonist with his social medium. At the same time, this period is the transition of his spiritual content into a new quality. Guy Montag is ready to meet with people similar to Clarisse and Faber. Like Montag, they have left the city to live in accordance with other laws – the laws of freedom. They are called ‘people-books’. Each of them has memorized some literary or journalistic work, which is part of the treasury of the world culture. This book cannot be burned. It can only be destroyed with the death of a person. However, they convey the contents of books from mouth to mouth and from generation to generation. They are not only guardians of cultural traditions. They still try to live in harmony with other people and nature.
Obviously, the community of ‘people-books’ hiding in the woods away from the civilization is a prelude of an ideal social order of Ray Bradbury. One of the most important philosophical problems for the writer is the problem of man’s relationship with nature. In the novel, through the prism of this relationship, all the cultural, spiritual, and human values are sifted. Through the relationship with nature, the essence of the characters of the novel manifests. ‘People-books’ dream that there will be a day when the city will expand its walls and admit forests, fields, and wildlife. People should not forget that they have a very small place in the world and they live in the natural environment.
The writer solves the problem associated with the alienation of a person from nature, but this solution is utopic. Some people run from the doomed world and create a new civilization. However, Robert Heinlein considers this option from an emphatically realistic position by appealing to the rough primitive, animal nature of a person putting forward an idea of a compromise with the basest human instincts, and he proclaims them as an analog of freedom. On the contrary, Ray Bradbury sees salvation in leaving everything physical and bodily. For Bradbury, spiritual is more important. According to the writer, only the spiritual essence of the world and a man is the absolute truth. In such a way, one of the most important themes in the novel is the religion theme as an alternative to soulless mass culture.
Repeatedly found references to the Bible emphasize the religious subtext of the book. Along with the quotes from the literary sources, they secretly lead to the outlet from the current situation of the general crisis proposed by the author. The image of the phoenix is associated with an idea of the transition in a new cycle of life. Phoenix periodically burns itself, but it is reborn from the ashes every time. This metaphor symbolizes the writer’s hope that humankind will be able to use knowledge and experiences accumulated for centuries and go through endless cycles of disintegration and new revivals.
All biblical references occupy a certain place in the context of the novel and play a special role in the development of the narrative promoting understanding of its internal philosophical meaning. In the subway, Guy Montag secretly reads the Gospel to the accompaniment of advertising. He reads an extract about lilies. “See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. Guy Montag reads lines about lilies that intersperse with the advertising of the toothpaste sounding in the subway car. This parallel is symbolic. It draws the line between the two spheres of existence – material and spiritual. People have forgotten that it is necessary to take care of the soul. They have dedicated themselves to the care of the daily bread. While, God gives everything that people have. At the end of the story, there is a quote from Ecclesiastes – “There is a time for everything, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to be silent and a time to speak”. These words – a brief retelling of the Biblical chapter “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) – come to the mind of Guy Montag when he and his supporters leave the city destroyed by bombs. The time of destruction is over. Now, it is the time to build. It is necessary to obey the natural order of things and move to the next cycle of life. It is a hidden meaning of this episode.
The novel ends with a reference to the Apocalypse: “... On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations”. It means that saved people have a long way to healing and return to the spiritual roots. The author of the book A Companion to Science Fiction states that “It is clear that in the final section of Fahrenheit 451, Christian symbolism is used to characterize both Montag’s trajectory and the apocalyptic end of the city”.
Fire Symbolism in the Novel
451 degree Fahrenheit is the temperature, at which paper ignites and burns. With this epigraph, Ray Bradbury’s novel begins. In the novel, the line of fire symbolism is clearly visible. A significant body of the narrative is devoted to fire. The title of the book Fahrenheit 451 is associated with the symbol of fire. The symbolism of fire is distinguished by duality characteristic for all Bradbury’s works. Firefighters do not extinguish the fire, as fireproof houses do not burn. They burn books, which are banned. In the novel, fire is a tool and a symbol of destruction. At the same time, it is a symbol of temptation. Fire symbolizes temptation to vent aggression, finish with all difficulties splitting “Gordian knot” and plunge into the serenity once again. However, this ideology does not satisfy Guy Montag, who has experienced a spiritual discernment. He ponders trying to reach the deep essence of the fire element and tries to understand why he cannot continue to live the way he has lived before. In the forest, Guy Montag sees the fire, around which ‘people-books’ are sitting. The fire does not burn. It warms. Guy Montag did not even know that the fire could be like this. He did not even know that fire could not only take but also give. Even the smell of the fire is completely different. Montag thinks that the whole world is concentrated here at this fire. For Guy Montag, the world is a piece of steel lying on the coals, which people have to forge anew.
In the last episode, there is the second image of the fire element – creative. The aspect of duality is hardly accidental here. The ancient philosophers regarded fire as one of the primary elements of the universe. Thinkers of the XX century had a contradictory attitude towards the symbol of fire. For example, in one of the books of Agni Yoga, it is said that fire sends all processes in the cosmos. The invisible process of life is sent by the fire of the spirit. However, it is also mentioned that people should beware of red flame. It devours all the valuable conditions of the ascension of clear consciousness. Red flame is the flame of seizures. Moreover, it is impossible to live and create among this fire. Consequently, according to the philosophical tradition, two opposite principles can be identified in terms of the symbolism of fire. The first principle is creating fire and fire of the spirit. However, the second principle is burning fire, which is a destructive energy. Both these principles are present in the novel of Ray Bradbury – creating and destructive fire. Burning as the constructive energy and burning as an apocalyptic catastrophe are symbolic poles of Bradbury’s novel. They are revealed through a complex symbolism, the bifurcated nature of a person – of both a creator and a destroyer. This symbolism contains the key to understanding the whole novel giving integrity and heightened depth to the narration.
Fahrenheit 451 is a novel that cannot leave a reader indifferent. The novel reveals one of the main problems of the XX century – alienation of people and their loss of the stable moral values as the result of the rapid development of science and technology. Bradbury does not frighten his readers. The author warns that if society continues to follow the path it is on, it will lose all the fruit nurtured by civilization and it will have to start from scratch. The religion theme in the novel is associated with the motif of spiritual rebirth. Natural and human feelings triumph against the backdrop of disaster.