Critical Analysis of Language in 'Fahrenheit 451'
Ray Bradbury's novel "Fahrenheit 451" is a dystopian book about a world in which firemen do not save houses; they burn them in order to destroy the printed word. Critics consider the novel to be Bradbury's best work, and it is Bradbury's use of language in the novel that makes it a favorite in classrooms worldwide. It is Bradbury's word choice -- his description of the interplay between the sparseness of protagonist Montag's home life, the burning of books at work and the new life Montag carves for himself -- that makes "Fahrenheit 451" a classic.
Similes and Metaphors
Bradbury uses many similes and metaphors in "Fahrenheit 451" to illustrate the sterility of Montag's environment. Montag's bedroom is referred to as "a winter island" and "an empty sea." His relationship with his wife is seen as colorless, cold and dead. The pills that Montag's wife nearly overdoses on are referred to as moonstones, and the machine that saves her life is a "snake." Montag's wife is characterized as a shell, and compared to the seashell radio in her ear, a "wasp" that buzzes constantly.
Bradbury also uses personification throughout his novel, especially when describing fire and Montag's job: "The sky screamed. ... Two giant hands tore ten thousand miles of black lines down the seam [of the house]. ... The train radio vomited on Montag." Bradbury uses personification to draw lines between the life that Montag is sleepwalking through, and is rapidly becoming disgusted by, and the life he is becoming curious about that seems more alive to him than the non-book life he currently has.
Irony is pervasive throughout the novel. Montag is a fireman who no longer fights fires; he begins them instead. In contrast with the burning and fire of Montag's job, his home is described as cold and dark, like a tomb. His wife Mildred is described as colorless, pale, lifeless. Yet the girl who changes Montag's life, Clarisse is described alternatively as "a light" and "a flame." The use of flame as irony is repeated when Montag kills his supervisor Captain Beatty, who is about to discover Montag's secret. Montag's captain always told him, "Don't face a problem, burn it." Montag "burns away" his problem by setting Captain Beatty on fire.
One of the most prominent symbols in "Fahrenheit 451" is the symbol of the phoenix. The parable of the phoenix can be found in many ancient texts. It is a bird that lives for as long as 1,000 years. At the end of its life, the phoenix builds a nest, ignites, and in its ashes, an egg for a new phoenix lies. The phoenix represents death and rebirth throughout the novel. Many things die in the novel. Montag's marriage dies. His belief in the government dies. Montag "dies" and is reborn when he escapes the mechanical dog by fleeing into the creek. He is given a potion by Granger to change his scent forever, which means he is reborn. Also, fire destroys the city where Montag lives. Granger uses the parable of the phoenix to discuss the rebirth of knowledge from books, and the city as a whole.
Lori Garrett-Hatfield has a B.J. in Journalism from the University of Missouri. She has a Ph.D. in Adult Education from the University of Georgia. She has been working in the Education field since 1994, and has taught every grade level in the K-12 system, specializing in English education, and English as a Second Language education.