Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Blood appears throughout the novel as a symbol of a human being’s repressed soul or primal, instinctive self. Montag often “feels” his most revolutionary thoughts welling and circulating in his blood. Mildred, whose primal self has been irretrievably lost, remains unchanged when her poisoned blood is replaced with fresh, mechanically administered blood by the Electric-Eyed Snake machine. The symbol of blood is intimately related to the Snake machine. Bradbury uses the electronic device to reveal Mildred’s corrupted insides and the thick sediment of delusion, misery, and self-hatred within her. The Snake has explored “the layer upon layer of night and stone and stagnant spring water,” but its replacement of her blood could not rejuvenate her soul. Her poisoned, replaceable blood signifies the empty lifelessness of Mildred and the countless others like her.
Bradbury uses this conjunction of images as the title of the first part of Fahrenheit 451. The hearth, or fireplace, is a traditional symbol of the home; the salamander is one of the official symbols of the firemen, as well as the name they give to their fire trucks. Both of these symbols have to do with fire, the dominant image of Montag’s life—the hearth because it contains the fire that heats a home, and the salamander because of ancient beliefs that it lives in fire and is unaffected by flames.
The title of the second part of Fahrenheit 451, “The Sieve and the Sand,” is taken from Montag’s childhood memory of trying to fill a sieve with sand on the beach to get a dime from a mischievous cousin and crying at the futility of the task. He compares this memory to his attempt to read the whole Bible as quickly as possible on the subway in the hope that, if he reads fast enough, some of the material will stay in his memory.
Simply put, the sand is a symbol of the tangible truth Montag seeks, and the sieve the human mind seeking a truth that remains elusive and, the metaphor suggests, impossible to grasp in any permanent way.
After the bombing of the city, Granger compares mankind to a phoenix that burns itself up and then rises out of its ashes over and over again. Man’s advantage is his ability to recognize when he has made a mistake, so that eventually he will learn not to make that mistake anymore. Remembering the mistakes of the past is the task Granger and his group have set for themselves. They believe that individuals are not as important as the collective mass of culture and history. The symbol of the phoenix’s rebirth refers not only to the cyclical nature of history and the collective rebirth of humankind but also to Montag’s spiritual resurrection.
At the very end of the novel, Granger says they must build a mirror factory to take a long look at themselves; this remark recalls Montag’s description of Clarisse as a mirror in “The Hearth and the Salamander.” Mirrors here are symbols of self-understanding, of seeing oneself clearly.
More main ideas from Fahrenheit 451