How does Fahrenheit 451 end?

At the end of Fahrenheit 451, Montag escapes the city and joins a small community of survivors who have successfully fled the repressive society and are dedicated to memorizing books. The group is moving north to start anew, and for the first time in his life Montag has a future to look forward to.

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At the end of Fahrenheit 451, the city has been destroyed by nuclear bombing, and it appears that only the exiles, including Montag, have survived. They do not know what has happened to the other cities or the country as a whole. As they light a fire to cook bacon for breakfast, Granger muses on the myth of the phoenix, the legendary bird that burned on a pyre and was born again from the ashes. He points out that humanity has one advantage denied to the phoenix: people can remember and learn from their mistakes, though they are slow to do so.

The exiles walk toward the burned city, led by Montag. As he walks, Montag recalls the words of the Book of Ecclesiastes, which refer to breaking down and building up, then to the healing of the nations. The book ends at this point, with Montag, Granger, and the other exiles walking toward the city to build up civilization again. This ending, though inconclusive, is unusually optimistic by the standards of dystopian novels. The totalitarian society seems to have destroyed itself, and a new world can now be constructed by the few who have survived, who are wiser and more humane than those who ruled the old society.

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As the novel reaches its conclusion, Montag flees into the wilderness and joins the Drifters, who are dedicated to the task of memorizing books. They watch on a portable TV as the authorities stage Montag’s murder to perpetuate the illusion that they are in perfect control.

The Drifters are by now far enough away from the city to be unaffected by the nuclear bombs which hit the city. While the drifters are preparing breakfast one morning, Granger tells the story of a “silly damn bird” called a phoenix who would burn up every few hundred years and be reborn from the ashes. He compares their experience to that of the phoenix, noting that humans have one advantage over the phoenix: the ability to see their mistakes and work towards not repeating them by picking up “a few more people that remember, every generation.”

After finishing their meal, the party begins walking again, with Montag in the lead. As he walks, he reflects on the biblical passage from Ecclesiastes which refers to the existence of a time for everything. He now truly understands how evil his former society was, and the role that he played in this as a “fireman” or burner of books. He contemplates the beginning of a new era and how a new and drastically different society will be built.

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As Ray Bradbury’s science fiction classic Fahrenheit 451 comes to an end, Montag has assimilated himself into the small but growing community of refugees who had successful fled the autocratic, repressive society that saw books as tools of dissent and rebellion, and from which this former fireman was now cast adrift.  Montag, of course, fled the city to escape the consequences of his actions.  He had illegally possessed a book of fairy tales, and was now at risk of being prosecuted for this unspeakable crime.  Bradbury’s novel takes place during a time of war, however, and the city from which Montag has fled is destroyed.  Among those with whom Montag has taken refuge is Granger, one of the men upon whom the disgraced fireman had stumbled.  As the group of refugees begins to break camp and return to the now destroyed city, Granger references the mythical bird Phoenix as a metaphor for the rejuvenation of society that can now take place:

"There was a silly damn bird called a Phoenix back before Christ: every few hundred years he built a pyre and burned himself up. He must have been first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we're doing the same thing, over and over, but we've got one damn thing the Phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we've done for a thousand years, and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, some day we'll stop making the goddam funeral pyres and jumping into the middle of them. We pick up a few more people that remember, every generation."

With this, the group begins its trek north to the begin life anew.  As Bradbury describes the scene, though, it is apparent that Montag has assumed the role of a leader:

“Montag began walking and after a moment found that the others had fallen in behind him, going north. He was surprised, and moved aside to let Granger pass, but Granger looked at him and nodded him on. Montag went ahead.”

Fahrenheit 451 ends with Montag reflecting upon the Biblical birth of a new age, and he is destined to play a major role in how the new society they must erect will reflect the idealistic notions that the previous regime had fought.

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At the end of Fahrenheit 451, Montag has escaped the city, which has been destroyed by bombs. He has joined a group of survivors who are devoted to memorizing and reciting books, and hopes to become like them with his memories of certain Biblical works.

To everything there is a season. Yes. A time to break down, and a time to build up. Yes. A time to keep silence and a time to speak. Yes, all that. But what else. What else? Something, something...
(Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, Google Books)

This period in Montag's life has come to an end. He has a future to look forward to for the first time in his life, instead of the same days following days that made him so uneasy. He remembers passages from Ecclesiastes, and Revelation, and he knows that his life will be different from now on; not necessarily better, but purposeful, with meaning. Montag has regained his individualism, and finally understands the true evils of his prior society.

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