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Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
Transcript of Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
Motif is an object or idea that repeats itself throughout a literary work.
Symbolism is the use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense.
Clarisse represents nature or that which is organic and natural. Almost every time the reader encounters her, Bradbury uses nature imagery to make the connection between Clarisse and nature. Nature, in this novel, represents that which is pure and wholesome. In the undisclosed city where this story takes place, there is no nature. Moreover, Nature is feared the same way the Clarisse herself is feared.
"The Hearth and the Salamander"
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.
Animal and Nature Imagery
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.
Wisdom and Knowledge vs. Ignorance
In Fahrenheit 451, wisdom and knowledge are gained through both experience and scholarship. Most important is critical thinking—challenging ideas rather than accepting them as absolutely correct.
Mentors and teachers are integral to this process, not only for passing on knowledge but for opening the door to independent thought.
The theme of a book is a universal idea or message that stretches through an entire story. A theme may show up in a pattern or a theme may come through as the result of a buildup. It is often a lesson that we learn about life or people.
Difference between a Theme and a Subject
It is important not to confuse a theme of a literary work with its subject. Subject is a topic which acts as a foundation for a literary work while a theme is an opinion expressed on the subject. For example, a writer may choose a subject of war for his story and the theme of a story may be writer’s personal opinion that war is a curse for humanity. Usually, it is up to the readers to explore a theme of a literary work by analyzing characters, plot and other literary devices.
Montag, Faber, and Beatty’s struggle revolves around the tension between knowledge and ignorance. The fireman’s duty is to destroy knowledge and promote ignorance in order to equalize the population and promote sameness. Montag’s encounters with Clarisse, the old woman, and Faber ignite in him the spark of doubt about this approach. His resultant search for knowledge destroys the unquestioning ignorance he used to share with nearly everyone else, and he battles the basic beliefs of his society.
Technology and Modernization
Bradbury thinks that the presence of fast cars, loud music, and advertisements creates a lifestyle with too much stimulation in which no one has the time to concentrate. Also, the huge mass of published material is too overwhelming to think about, leading to a society that reads condensed books (which were very popular at the time Bradbury was writing) rather than the real thing.
TV is the enemy in Fahrenheit 451. It’s responsible for replacing literature, intellectualism, and curiosity. On top of that, it’s become a substitute for family, friendship, and any sort of real conversation. Relationships?
We learn that the TV reigns supreme in the future because of the "happiness" it offers. People are happier when they don’t have to think, or so the story goes. TV aside, technology is the government’s means of oppression, but also provides the renegade’s opportunity to subvert.
Motifs develop Theme
In a literary work, a motif can be seen as an image, sound, action or other figures that have a symbolic significance and contributes toward the development of theme. Motif and theme are linked in a literary work but there is a difference between them. In a literary piece, a motif is a recurrent image, idea or a symbol that develops or explains a theme while a theme is a central idea or message.
A paradox in literature refers to the use of concepts or ideas that are contradictory to one another, yet, when placed together hold significant value on several levels.
His paradox is that he is a book burner, but he is also a keeper.
Her paradox is that she is anti-social, but also very social.
The mechanical hound's paradox is that it's living, but not living.
Knows the rules are corrupt, but still follows them.
She is alive, but is not living her life.
Read many books but thinks they should be burnt.
Happy without books but commit suicide and murder.
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 shallowness andunreality, and Montag desperately seeks more substantial truths in the books he hoards.
Motif and Symbol
Sometimes, examples of motif are mistakenly identified as examples of symbols. Symbols are images, ideas, sounds or words that represent something else and help to understand an idea or a thing. Motifs, on the other hand, are images, ideas, sounds or words that help to explain the central idea of a literary work i.e. theme. Moreover, a symbol may appear once or twice in a literary work, whereas a motif is a recurring element.
“The Sieve and the Sand”
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.
Books are banned in the society depicted in Fahrenheit 451.When they're found, they're burned, along with the homes of the books' owners. But it's important to remember that in the world of this novel, the suppression of books began as self-censorship. As Beatty explains to Montag, people didn't stop reading books because a tyrannical government forced them to stop. They stopped reading books gradually over time as the culture around them grew faster, shallower, intellectually blander, and centered around minor thrills and instant gratification. In such a culture, books became shorter, magazine and newspaper articles became simpler, cartoon pictures and television became more prevalent, and entertainment replaced reflection and debate.
In time, the word "intellectual" became a swear word, and books came to be seen as a dangerous means for one person to lord his or her knowledge and learning over someone else. Books, and the critical thinking they encouraged, became seen as a direct threat to equality. By making widespread censorship a phenomenon that emerges from the culture itself—and not one that is simply imposed from above by the government—Bradbury is expressing a concern that the power of mass media can ultimately suppress free speech as thoroughly as any totalitarian regime.