Critical Analysis Essay

Literary technique discussed: symbolism.

 

Claim: Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 uses literary symbolism to create a dystopian novel which forms a critique of modern society.

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Critical Analysis Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 portrays an oppressive rather than ideal society. Rather than portray an overtly bleak, impoverished or war-torn society in his dystopia, Bradbury chooses to portray the tyranny of the “normal” or the  or the oppressiveness of uniform vision, no matter how outwardly facile or harmless. Banality, in effect, becomes humanity’s greatest enemy, though human society moves fully to embrace it. Culture or expression which encourages free ideas is outlawed. Books are burned for the avowed purpose of decreasing threats to human happiness.

Guy Montag, the novel’s protagonist is a rebel in that he ultimately comes to reject the common vision of life and happiness and the accepted social norms. When the book begins, Montag is fully acclimated to his society and takes great pride in his job as a “fireman,” which is another name for a book-burner. But his life is changed by a simple encounter with a young girl named Clarisse who seems innately bound against the society’s  precepts; after-which, Montag begins to suspect something is not perfect after-all in his seemingly perfect world.

A literary technique used by Bradbury in the novel is symbolism. Fahrenheit 451 is a triptych, meaning it is composed of three titled sections. Part one is entitled “The Hearth and the Salamander.” The obvious symbolism of the salamander is meant to convey the sense of human integrity and thirst for knowledge enduring beyond the fire of oppression. Clarisse asks a key thematic question in this section: she asks Montag if he is happy. In fact, the ensuing story illuminates Montag’s delusional ‘happiness” and leads through a journey to true awareness.  Section two has the title: “The Sieve and the Sand.” The symbol of this section is a reference to Montag’s childhood when he tried to fill a sieve with sand. Too young to know that such an operation was impossible, he keeps trying until he breaks down in frustration. This is meant to suggest how earnestly and “blind” humanity is capable of following a wrong path or method. In the story, Montag feels like he is trying to fill a sieve with sand when he begins to recognize the society in which he lives and the shallowness of his life and marriage. Part three is called “Burning Bright,” and this title is an allusion to a poem by William Blake called “The Tyger.” Blake’s “Tyger” represents human evil in the poem. Likewise, Montag’s society is “burning bright” in that they burn books, burn knowledge and freedom, and self-discovery on the pyre of ignorance and oppression. The fire also dually symbolizes the fire of inspiration and the great conflagration at the novels’ denouement: when Montag and his fellow rebels move toward the burning city of the oppressors: one is left to wonder whether or not humanity can successfully retrieve itself from the ashes of the fallen dystopia.

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