Symbolism in “Fahrenheit 451”: the Fire of Ignorance

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Updated: Aug 21, 2023
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In Montag’s world, a fireman’s job is not to extinguish the fire, but to go out and burn down houses with books in them. In this society, people do not read books, spend time with their significant others, or have the ability to have meaningful conversations. Instead, they spend most of their time watching a wall-sized television that covers all four walls of the room to have a complete entertainment package, driving very fast to the point where they won’t be able to see anything along the roads, and having earphones plugs that they put into their ears to play any sort of music or entertainment.

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What Books Symbolize: Knowledge as Power in a Dystopian Society

The government has decided that all books are dangerous, and ownership of any is considered a crime. People who are neighbors would report one another to the fire department when they find out if someone had books. The phone call would alarm the firemen to come and burn the house down. The police usually come first and “…bandaged him off into their glittering beetle cars” (Bradbury 34). The firemen would then put the books in a pile sprayed with kerosene. The fireman’s job wasn’t just to help the people keep peace and get rid of every book; it was also their job to provide entertainment.

Burning books can be compared to having a firework show; the main purpose of both events is to put on a show for the people watching. People who watched the book burning are supposed to be amazed and wowed by the event. It can also act as a message to the people watching, sending the message, “Get rid of any books, or we’ll burn your house down too!” People will get constantly reminded, and the idea of books being bad will be ingrained in their brains.

The Symbolism of Book Burning: A Warning and A Spectacle

According to Beatty, burning books can eliminate bad feelings. “Coloured people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Cabin. Burn it….” (Bradbury 57). Beatty is saying if every single book in the world is burned, then no one could feel displeased or troubled by it. People then will read less and think less. It can also decrease controversies and debates, but it comes at the cost of knowledge. The government wants to control the people through media, censorship, and technology.

The book symbolizes knowledge and knowledge equal power. That is why the role of firemen is to burn books so that no one gains any ideas. “A little learning is a dangerous thing. Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring; Their shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again” (Bradbury 106). Captain Beatty is saying that once we begin to learn, we want more of it, but then we become aware that there is more.

Control Through Censorship and Technology: A Society of Ignorance

The government doesn’t want the people to be able to think and ask questions, so the government hires firemen to destroy everything that contains knowledge, and in this case, books are the only thing that contains knowledge. They are considered to be evil because they allow people to think and obtain information, so the people in this world have no information about history or anything about the past. Society wants people to be like zombies, where they go throughout their life without having any thoughts or any questions about anything.

Book burning played a big part in history and in Fahrenheit 451. Books contain knowledge that allows an individual to have power over another, as many leaders are able to have control over their society by getting rid of books. Books contain the foundation of society and provide the basis of knowledge, and destroying books would take away the traditional way of getting information. Knowledge allows one to build intelligence and have the power to make decisions. It gives a person more power if they have knowledge over others. The importance of knowledge in books gives Montag the drive to fight against the social norms that the government enforces.


  1. Bradbury, R. (1953). Fahrenheit 451. Simon & Schuster.
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Symbolism in “Fahrenheit 451”: The Fire of Ignorance. (2023, Aug 18). Retrieved from