In Fahrenheit 451, what lesson does Guy Montag learn and how did he struggle with it?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Montag's question that he so desperately wants answered has two parts. First, because he feels as if his life is empty, he wants to know what exactly is missing from it. Second, he wants to know if books have the answer to fill his life with the missing part--whatever that might be. Montag first struggles with these questions when he meets Clarisse, a free-thinking teenager, who asks him if he is happy. When he can't honestly answer that he is, he wonders if the books contain the secret to happiness. What pushes Montag over the edge from wondering about books to actively seeking them out, and illegally reading them, is when a lady burns herself up for her books. He almost goes crazy with wonder trying to figure out why someone would die over books. Eventually, he remembers a former English professor he once spoke to and calls him for help to discover the secrets in books.

When Montag meets with Faber, he tells him of his concerns about feeling as though something is missing from his life. Faber tells him the following:

"No, no, it's not books at all you're looking for! . . . Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us. . . The things you are looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book" (82-83 & 86).

Faber is completely correct because once Montag escapes the city and makes it to the natural world, it is then that he discovers what he was missing. He sees stars and leaves, feels the cool water and air around him, and his senses snap him back into remembering a life he had completely forgotten--his childhood on a farm. By living in the city with all of its distractions and hedonistic ways, Montag had forgotten about nature and how to use his five senses. These senses connect him to the natural world around him, which also connect him to living an authentic life--not a distracted one. 

"He stood breathing, and the more he breathed the land in, the more he was filled up with all the details of the land. He was not empty. There was more than enough here to fill him. There would always be more than enough" (144).

Therefore, Montag learns that the emptiness he feels in his life can be filled by experiencing the natural world, not necessarily by reading books. It takes him the course of the book to struggle with these questions, though. Fortunately, he had Faber to help guide him through the process and he was able to escape the city in order to discover the real world. 

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Fahrenheit 451

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