Fahrenheit 451

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Fire Symbol Icon
Fire is an interesting symbol in Fahrenheit 451 because it symbolizes two different things. Through the firemen, who burn books and wear the number "451" on their helmets, fire symbolizes destruction. (451°F is the temperature at which paper and books burn.) Yet at the same time, Clarisse reminds Montag of candle-light, and so fire, when controlled, symbolizes the flickering of self-awareness and knowledge.

Fire Quotes in Fahrenheit 451

The Fahrenheit 451 quotes below all refer to the symbol of Fire. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Mass Media Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Fahrenheit 451 published in 2013.
Part 1 Quotes
It was a pleasure to burn.
Related Characters: Guy Montag (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

The famous first sentence of the novel introduces readers to a world in which firemen start fires instead of putting them out. Guy Montag, the main character of the novel, is a fireman, and seems to take great pleasure in his work. Guy doesn't see anything morally objectionable about using fire to destroy "improper" literature--on the contrary, he seems to believe that he's doing the right thing.

The sentence also alludes to the dark side of Guy's society. Authority figures like Guy act as if they're doing the "right thing" by burning down people's houses. But secretly, it's implied, they act out of a savage, primal desire to destroy--in short, Guy's society is controlled by cruel and brutal people pretending to be voices of morality. Guy's society is also hopelessly violent thanks to the omnipotence of television and sensationalized entertainment.

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"We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon."
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

Captain Beatty gives one final historical explanation for the supremacy of censorship in his society: anti-intellectualism. In Beatty's society, intelligence is treated with suspicion and even outright hatred, because it makes the less-intelligent feel inferior. While anti-intellectualism can be found in any society, it's usually protected by certain laws and rules, such as the laws of free speech, which allow intelligent people to express their ideas freely. In Beatty's society, however, no such protections exist; as a result, the less-intelligent can "wage war" on intelligent people with impunity. Books, then, are perceived as dangerous, because they can make certain people more intelligent than others. The inevitable endpoint, Beatty concludes, is to make everyone the same.

The passage suggests that Beatty's society has perverted the tenets of the American Constitution, which argues that people should be born equal (meaning equal under the law, supposedly), by trying to make people remain equal throughout their lives. This is a darker side to the ideas of democracy and equality (and was also an aspect of some historical totalitarian Communist regimes)--the forced equality that doesn't just mean lifting up the lower, but also cutting down the higher. Ideally, America was founded to be a complex, pluralistic society, in which each person brought different experiences, skills, and ideas to the table. Now, with the popularity of television, everyone seems to have the same experiences (because they watch the same programs on TV). Human beings' natural resentment for smart people, combined with the new scope of mass media, has resulted in a dull, homogeneous society.

"Burn all, burn everything. Fire is bright and fire is clean."
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Beatty sums up his ideas about censorship and conformity with a simple sentence: "Burn all, burn everything." Beatty has just been describing the history of censorship in the United States. He fully recognizes the scope of his work as a fireman: by burning forbidden literature, he realizes, he's strengthening a system in which all people have the same experiences and thoughts.

Beatty's work as a fireman represents the "dark side" of his society. People in the U.S. enjoy lives of fun and mindless pleasure--but their pleasure is dependent on Beatty burning down houses (and occasionally burning the people in them, too). And yet though Beatty knows the truth, he still seems untroubled by the nature of his work. Because he celebrates conformity and homogeneity, he sees his work as noble and pure. Fire, he implies, is the "great equalizer"--the weapon that allows everyone to be happy.

Part 2 Quotes
"Those who don't build must burn. It's as old as history and juvenile delinquents."
Related Characters: Faber (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Faber sums up his ideas about modern American society. Society, he says, has become a place for destruction. Firemen destroy forbidden literature, and even the average American citizen watches TV programs in which people and machines destroy each other. In short, society has become mindlessly violent because it's entertaining, and because people have nothing positive to offer in place of violence. As Faber sees it, society's love for destruction is indicative of a fundamental lack of creativity: "those who don't build must burn."

Faber's theory of modern American society is rooted in his knowledge of history. There have always been destructive people, he acknowledges. But for most of history, mankind's potential for creativity overshadowed its potential to destroy. Societies celebrated creation more highly than destruction. Nowadays, society fetishizes destruction and greets all unique creativity with suspicion.

"They are so confident that they will run on forever. But they won't run on. They don't know that this is all one huge big blazing meteor that makes a pretty fire in space, but that someday it'll have to hit."
Related Characters: Faber (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Faber offers some harsh thoughts on Guy's wife and her friends. Guy has just returned from a long conversation with Faber about the superficiality of modern society. During his ride back to his home, Guy learns that his country has just declared war. When Guy returns to his home, he's shocked to find that his wife and her peers are mostly indifferent to the political details of the war--they're more concerned about the TV program they're about to watch, "The White Clown."

Faber, who's communicating with Guy via an earpiece, claims that Guy's peers are naively confident that their society will last forever. In other words, they don't need to think about politics or war, because they're confident that America will win every military conflict, allowing them to go on watching TV and enjoying themselves. The reality, however, is that Guy's friends are partying on a sinking ship--and soon enough, their country's actions will catch up with it. Also note that Faber again uses fire imagery here, suggesting that the fires society uses to burn books will grow beyond its control, and burn up society itself.

Part 3 Quotes
"What is it about fire that's so lovely? No matter what age we are, what draws us to it?... It's perpetual motion; the thing man wanted to invent but never did. Or almost perpetual motion. If you let it go on, it'd burn our lifetimes out."
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

Captain Beatty has discovered that Guy Montag is a "traitor" to society: Guy has been reading the books he was supposed to destroy. As Beatty prepares to arrest Guy for his acts of treason, he mocks Guy by musing on the beauty of fire. Beatty claims that all human beings are attracted to fire, because it has the potential to last forever, because it is capable of destroying everything, and because it is constantly moving and entertaining (like a primitive form of television, almost).

It's interesting that Beatty praises fire for its destructive capabilities as well as its immortality. One could argue that fire symbolizes Beatty's society as a whole: an incredibly destructive country that wages war on its neighbors and broadcasts violent TV programs, all for entertainment and pleasure.

"Now, Montag, you're a burden. And fire will lift you off my shoulders, clean, quick, sure; nothing to rot later. Antibiotic, aesthetic, practical."
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker), Guy Montag
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Beatty offers Guy a chance to burn down his own house, which--as we've seen--has been targeted for destruction because of Guy's "subversive" behavior. As Guy grips the flamethrower in his hands, Beatty mocks Guy for being a "burden" and suggests that he'll enjoy burning Guy to a crisp.

It's not a great idea to antagonize someone with access to a working flamethrower. But perhaps Beatty's behavior in this passage is indicative of a broader problem with his society. On some level, Beatty seems to want Guy to attack him with the flamethrower (which Guy does immediately after this passage). Beatty's hatred for Guy--his desire to burn Guy to death--suggests his self-hatred, and his desire to end his own pathetic life. In short, Beatty's behavior exposes the hidden depression and self-loathing of modern American society-- feelings encouraged by the vapidity and violence of the modern media.

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Fire Symbol Timeline in Fahrenheit 451

The timeline below shows where the symbol Fire appears in Fahrenheit 451. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
Censorship Theme Icon
...intense pleasure in burning a pile of books on a lawn. It's his job—he's a fireman. He loves the way things look when they burn and the way he feels when... (full context)
Mass Media Theme Icon
Conformity vs. Individuality Theme Icon
...and asks if she can walk home with him. She notes that Montag is a fireman, and says that she isn't afraid of him and tells him that fireman used to... (full context)
Censorship Theme Icon
Conformity vs. Individuality Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
...he reaches ten, the woman strikes a match and lights herself and everything else on fire. The neighbors come out to watch the spectacle. (full context)
Censorship Theme Icon
Conformity vs. Individuality Theme Icon
Action vs. Inaction Theme Icon
Driving back to the firehouse, Montag asks what the woman was reciting when they entered. Beatty knows it by heart.... (full context)