Only the man with the Captain’s hat and the sign of the Phoenix on his hat, at last, curious, his playing cards in his thin hand, talked across the long room.
In addition to the salamander, the phoenix is a symbol that all firemen wear on their uniforms, with Captain Beatty also wearing the image on his hat. Similar to the salamander, the phoenix can withstand fire in its own way—by being burned up and then reborn in the ashes. This is another ironic symbol for the firemen to display, especially Captain Beatty, as in the end, Montag kills him with fire.
He burnt the bedroom walls and the cosmetics chest because he wanted to change everything, the chairs, the tables, and in the dining room the silverware and plastic dishes, everything that showed that he had lived here in this empty house with a strange woman who would forget him tomorrow, who had gone and quite forgotten him already, listening to her Seashell Radio pour in on her and in on her as she rode across town, alone. And as before, it was good to burn, he felt himself gush out in the fire, snatch, rend, rip in half with flame, and put away the senseless problem.
When Beatty orders Montag to burn down his own house, Montag doesn’t hesitate, for he has come to despise all it represents. In truth, however, he doesn’t seek to destroy his house and everything in it but rather he wishes “to change everything.” He wants to forget the empty life he had with Mildred and create a clean slate for his future. Like the phoenix, he knows he needs to burn everything to the ground before he can rise up and be reborn.
“We’re book burners, too. We read the books and burnt them, afraid they’d be found. . . . Better to keep it in the old heads, where no one can see it or suspect it.”
When Granger explains to Montag that the people in their group memorized certain books before burning them, Montag is surprised. However, rather than burning books to destroy the knowledge, they keep the knowledge and burn the books to protect themselves. Just as a phoenix cannot be destroyed by flames, the essence of literature can’t be destroyed by merely burning the pages: The wisdom and knowledge lives on in those who have carefully read the text.
[“]And when the war’s over, some day, some year, the books can be written again, the people will be called in, one by one, to recite what they know and we’ll set it up in type until another Dark Age, when we might have to do the whole damn thing over again. But that’s the wonderful thing about man; he never gets so discouraged or disgusted that he gives up doing it all over again, because he knows very well it is important and worth the doing.”
As Granger tells Montag that there are many people spread out across the country who have memorized books, he explains how they plan to keep the knowledge alive. One day, they will record the information in books again. Granger does acknowledge that those books, in turn, may be destroyed again, but should that happen, the process will just repeat itself. Granger knows that, like a phoenix, wisdom and information from literature can never truly die no matter how many times they are destroyed by fire, just as long as humans work to keep them alive.
“There was a silly damn bird called a Phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burned himself up. He must have been first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the Phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, some day we’ll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them. We pick up a few more people that remember, every generation.”
After the city is vaporized, Granger brings up the phoenix and compares it to humankind. Like the phoenix, humans cyclically destroy themselves and their societies only to build up society again. However, according to Granger, humans have the ability to remember and record what has happened in an attempt to avoid repeating past mistakes. In this way, books can help teach people about the past as well as serve as a guide or offer a warning for the future.