When, in the opening passages of Ray Bradbury's science fiction classic Fahrenheit 451 , Guy Montag encounters Clarisse McClellan, a teenage girl newly-arrived in Guy's neighborhood, she wastes no time engaging him in conversation about his line of work. Montag is a fireman. In Bradbury's depiction of a futuristic...
When, in the opening passages of Ray Bradbury's science fiction classic Fahrenheit 451, Guy Montag encounters Clarisse McClellan, a teenage girl newly-arrived in Guy's neighborhood, she wastes no time engaging him in conversation about his line of work. Montag is a fireman. In Bradbury's depiction of a futuristic dystopian society in which books are banned because of the knowledge and ideas they contain, a fireman serves to destroy through the use of fire any books located hidden among city residents' homes. The firemen also burn the homes in which the books were hidden. In the novel's opening passages, Montag is still a committed 'public servant,' carrying out his orders without question. The novel's opening sentence suggests the enthusiasm and commitment with which Montag, and his colleagues, carry out their assigned duties: "It was a pleasure to burn." When Montag encounters Clarisse, the young, cheerful independent-minded teenager, he is a little bewildered by this newcomer to his world. Note in the following exchange the first suggestion that Montag may be growing weary with the destruction he has devoted his life to inflicting on others:
"Of course," he said, "you're a new neighbour, 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 kerosene? My wife always complains," he laughed. "You never wash it off completely."
"No, you don't," she said, in awe.
When Montag observes regarding the kerosene used in the performance of his duties that "you never wash it off completely," he is not only stating a fact with regard to personal hygiene and the resilience of the highly-flammable liquid he uses to burn books, but he is also, subconsciously, commenting on the moral responsibility he carries with him for inflicting so much pain on others for the benefit of an autocratic regime. His observation is prescient, as he will soon rebel against this totalitarian system he has faithfully and diligently served. The traces of kerosene in his pores and on his clothes is a daily reminder that he carries out a highly immoral function from which he cannot easily escape.