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A long time ago, when Montag was a little kid, some older cousin of his told him he would get a dime if he could fill up his sieve with sand. Of course, that is impossible as long as the sieve's holes are big enough. So Montag got his hands burned by the hot sand and totally failed to fill the sieve -- he kept pouring sand in and it kept staying empty.
You can say this is a metaphor for what happens with Montag and books. He is trying to fill his mind with what the books mean, but he does not really know how to do that yet. He has not fully gotten rid of the "holes" the society has put in his mind. Maybe once he totally breaks away from society, he will be able to understand.
In Part Two, "The Sieve and the Sand," Montag and his wife are having difficulty reading because they do not know what their books mean. They can read the words, but without historical, educational and personal experiences to draw from, deciphering the meaning behind the words is difficult and their comprehension is limited at best. Therefore, it's like the time Montag tried to fill a sieve with sand: He has too many holes in his education to help him understand the reading. Millie gets frustrated, so Montag thinks the following:
"Poor Millie, he thought. Poor Montag, it's mud to you, too. But where do you get help, where do you find a teacher this late? (74).
This is when Montag remembers meeting the old English professor, Faber, about a year before this point in time. The flashback reveals to the reader that Montag just happens to know a teacher whom he never thought he would contact; but now is the perfect time to find the number he gave him last year. Montag decides to call Faber with the hopes that he will shed some light on his reading materials and help him to understand what they all mean. Montag's biggest question is whether or not books have something that he is missing in his life. He feels empty, unsatisfied, and determined to discover the secrets held in books.
During the flashback, Montag remembers that Faber quoted poetry to him and seemed very wise when he said, "I don't talk things, sir, . . . I talk the meaning of things. I sit here and know I'm alive" (75). This is exactly what Montag needs as he and Mildred are reading books--a teacher. A teacher will be able to help him fill up the holes in his education as he reads. Also, he needs to know if he is alive and what the meaning of his life should be. He also wonders if he should ever return to being a fireman again. He first needs to know the meaning of books because then he can decide if they are worth sacrificing his job, his home, and everything he knows for something else. Faber had given Montag his number in case he ever wanted to report him, but Montag never snitched. After the flashback, Montag decides to call Faber and ask him to help him make sense of what he is reading.
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