How is Montag affected by the event that occurred at 11 North Elm and the woman to whom it occurred in Fahrenheit 451?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Montag was deeply affected by the incident with the woman because she decided to be burned with her books, making him wonder what made them worth it.

Montag exists in a society where books are considered the enemy.  In his world, firemen don’t put out fires.  They use them to burn books.  Books make people unhappy, so they must be destroyed.  Montag has never doubted his profession or the danger of books until he met a young woman named Clarisse, who asked him if he was happy.  It was after this conversation that he was sent to 11 No. Elm, to the house of the old woman. 

At first, Mrs. Blake is like any other call.  However this time the call is different because Montag is different.  Clarisse has made him look at the world differently, so he begins to look at books differently.  He starts to wonder what makes books so dangerous.  It is human nature to wonder about the forbidden.  Naturally, he is curious.  So he steals a book in the confusion.

Montag had done nothing. His hand had done it all, his hand, with a brain of its own, with a conscience and a curiosity in each trembling finger, had turned thief.. (Part II)

Beatty admonishes the woman that the people in the books “never lived” and aren’t real, and Montag pleads with her to leave.  She intentionally defies them and quotes history before setting herself on fire.

Montag is impressed and horrified by her actions.  He wants to know what is in the books, and beings to realize that Beatty knows more than he is saying as well.  It is at this point that Montag begins his journey of exploration to find out more about literature and society.  It changes him forever.

This incident is also important because it Beatty senses his hesitation.  When Montag does not go to work, he knows why.  He tries to talk Montag down, reminding him of his duty to society, but Montag is more on the side of the books from this point on.  His conflict with Beatty is inevitable.

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