The Phoenix: The Rise and Fall of Civilizations

By Beth W., 7th Grade

June 2015

Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 describes a world in which people sleepwalk through life.  Their anxieties are buried deep beneath the noise of the screens and seashell radios.  Yet in any society, outliers exist, the ones who are considered “not normal.” One of them is Mrs. Clara Phelps. When Montag starts to read “Dover Beach,” she suddenly cries out loud not knowing what happened. For the first time, the poem asks her to be honest with herself about the beauties of the world that she and others like her have destroyed. Indeed, Mrs. Phelps recognizes that just like in the poem, her society has lost honesty and values and has replaced them with meaningless conflicts.

The last stanza of the poem, “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold captures the idea that the world appears to be wonderful when in reality, it is ugly. The stanza opens with a beckoning to the speaker’s love to “be true to one another” (30). In other words, the speaker invites her to be realistic about the world. “The land of dreams” which seems “so various, so beautiful, so new” persuades her to come join him at the lighthouse (31-32). The speaker feels that he can explore the beauties of the world with her. Yet, something seems amiss because in reality this world has no joy, love, light, certitude, peace, or help for pain. The core values that he embraces are long gone and swept away. The two of them, along with others, are stuck on a darkling plain, a world that is bearing the consequences of the soldiers who are fighting for no reason.

This poem mirrors the society described in Fahrenheit 451. Montag’s reading of the poem, “Dover Beach” causes Mrs. Phelps to cry because she begins to see the truth about her life. The stanza opens with the mention of love, but when Mrs. Phelps recalls her past, she realizes that she has never experienced real love. In order to mask the meaninglessness of life, seashell radios and the parlor walls keep the citizens entertained. These items satisfy the citizen’s needs for entertainment, but in return, give them a life of monotony in the “land of dreams” (31). Mrs. Phelps, along with the other people, has no values  as described in the poem. The loss of character leads to uneducated citizens who are conflicted within themselves and each other. In the “darkling plain” that they are living on, there are confused alarms of struggle and flight both physically and metaphorically (35). When the firemen hear alarms stationed at the firehouse, they immediately jump in their “salamanders” and rush to the crime scene. The society also has an inner war within themselves because firemen burn books. The city is divided into those who believe that books are valuable and those who think books disorient the reader. Yet there are still others, like Captain Beatty, who are fighting their own internal battle on whether books are good or bad. The final parallel between the poem and the book is that of the “ignorant armies that clash by night,” who fight a meaningless war that has raged on for years (37). The futuristic nightmare that Ray Bradbury has created fits perfectly with the poem written in the 19th century.

In the book, Ray Bradbury outlines a grim perspective of humanity, yet he offers a vision for a better future. At the end of the story, Montag’s mentor, Granger, talks about the Phoenix. The Phoenix, Granger says, was a bird that burned himself in a pyre and then came back to life each time. It symbolized the destruction of the city but a hope for a new and better civilization with the knowledge that Granger and Montag have. Although our society isn’t in the brink of destruction, we can relate to the metaphor of the Phoenix. In the past, every great civilization has had a great fall, just like the Phoenix that burns itself. Yet, when one great civilization falls, another is created, just like the Phoenix coming back to life. Granger said that the only thing that is different from us and the Phoenix is that we can find a way to destroy these pyres that burn us. We know the history of the past, so we can change our thinking and ways in the future.

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