Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
In the beginning of “The Hearth and the Salamander,” Montag’s bedroom is described first as “not empty” and then as “indeed empty,” because Mildred is physically there, but her thoughts and feelings are elsewhere. Bradbury’s repeated use of such paradoxical statements—especially that a character or thing is dead and alive or there and not there—is frequently applied to Mildred, suggesting her empty, half-alive condition. Bradbury also uses these paradoxical statements to describe the “Electric-Eyed Snake” stomach pump and, later, the Mechanical Hound. These paradoxes question the reality of beings that are apparently living but spiritually dead. Ultimately, Mildred and the rest of her society seem to be not much more than machines, thinking only what they are told to think. The culture of Fahrenheit 451 is a culture of insubstantiality and unreality, and Montag desperately seeks more substantial truths in the books he hoards.
Animal and nature imagery pervades the novel. Nature is presented as a force of innocence and truth, beginning with Clarisse’s adolescent, reverent love for nature. She convinces Montag to taste the rain, and the experience changes him irrevocably. His escape from the city into the country is a revelation to him, showing him the enlightening power of unspoiled nature.
Much of the novel’s animal imagery is ironic. Although this society is obsessed with technology and ignores nature, many frightening mechanical devices are modeled after or named for animals, such as the Electric-Eyed Snake machine and the Mechanical Hound.
Fahrenheit 451 contains a number of religious references. Mildred’s friends remind Montag of icons he once saw in a church and did not understand. The language Bradbury uses to describe the enameled, painted features of the artifacts Montag saw is similar to the language he uses to describe the firemen’s permanent smiles. Faber invokes the Christian value of forgiveness: after Montag turns against society, Faber reminds him that since he was once one of the faithful, he should demonstrate pity rather than fury.
The narrative also contains references to the miracle at Canaa, where Christ transformed water into wine. Faber describes himself as water and Montag as fire, asserting that the merging of the two will produce wine. In the biblical story, Jesus Christ’s transformation of water into wine was one of the miracles that proved his identity and instilled faith in his role as the savior. Montag longs to confirm his own identity through a similar self-transformation.
The references to fire are more complex. In the Christian tradition, fire has several meanings: from the pagan blaze in which the golden calf was made to Moses’ burning bush, it symbolizes both blatant heresy and divine presence. Fire in Fahrenheit 451 also possesses contradictory meanings. At the beginning it is the vehicle of a restrictive society, but Montag turns it upon his oppressor, using it to burn Beatty and win his freedom.