The five main character of the book each represent a reaction to the future society of censorship, control, and oppression. Montag represents a man who grew up knowing nothing but the society coming to terms with his feelings of individuality. He is first confused and has trouble putting his feelings into context, but slowly comes to realize that society is damaged and needs to be repaired. His polar opposite is Captain Beatty, who similarly grew up in society, but embraces and accepts this form of control as necessary to keep the populace in line. Beatty uses his knowledge of old texts to debate and confuse issues, trying to keep the status quo in place.
"And you said, quoting, 'Truth will come to light, murder will not be hid long!' And I cried in good humour, 'Oh God, he speaks only of his horse!' And 'The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.' And you yelled, 'This age thinks better of a gilded fool, than of a threadbare saint in wisdom's school!' And I whispered gently, 'The dignity of truth is lost with much protesting.'"
(Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, Google Books)
Mildred represents the complacent citizen, entirely content to be controlled by government as long as she doesn't have to think about anything important or take responsibility. Mildred cannot understand why she is being controlled, and perhaps does not even realize it; she is unable to think past her own enjoyment. Clarisse is Mildred's polar opposite, being aware of the problems with society and just beginning her journey into individualism; she is still growing mentally and emotionally, but has a greater grasp on reality than anyone around her. Clarisse understands that collectivism is inherently flawed, and instead the individual must be self-aware and self-controlling. Faber represents the coward; he was aware of the slow changes in society, but did nothing to stop them from an incorrect assumption that the individual cannot move against the collective. Faber also assumes that he alone wishes for change, and so does nothing to fight society until Montag ignites his own passion.
Appropriately named after a paper-manufacturing company, Montag is the protagonist of Fahrenheit 451. He is by no means a perfect hero, however. The reader can sympathize with Montag’s mission, but the steps he takes toward his goal often seem clumsy and misguided. Montag’s faith in his profession and his society begins to decline almost immediately after the novel’s opening passage. Faced with the enormity and complexity of books for the first time, he is often confused, frustrated, and overwhelmed. As a result, he has difficulty deciding what to do independently of Beatty, Mildred, or Faber. Likewise, he is often rash, inarticulate, self-obsessed, and too easily swayed. At times he is not even aware of why he does things, feeling that his hands are acting by themselves. These subconscious actions can be quite horrific, such as when he finds himself setting his supervisor on fire, but they also represent his deepest desires to rebel against the status quo and find a meaningful way to live.