Fahrenheit 451 Questions and Answers
by Ray Bradbury

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In Fahrenheit 451, during his conversation with Clarisse, Montag says, "You never wash it off completely" referring to the kerosene. What could this symbolically mean?

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Montag actually says this in reply to Clarisse's statement, which is significant. Here it is in context:

"You're our new neighbor, aren't you?"

"And you must be—" she raised her eyes from his professional symbols "—the fireman." Her voice trailed off.

"How oddly you say that."

"I'd—I'd have known it with my eyes shut," she said, slowly.

"What—the smell of the kerosene? My wife always complains," he laughed. "You never wash it off completely."

The kerosene represents the government's influence, which Montag can never escape. It is literally the fuel with which he is forced to drench books, as well as other belongings in people's houses when they are found hiding "dangerous" possessions. Montag comes to despise his work, but the government's influence in its citizens' lives is so complete that it seems impossible to ever completely rid himself of it. Even though he disagrees with the government, his occupation is the very core of their society, and any dissent to its policies causes...

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