How does Montag change throughout the narrative of the novel Fahrenheit?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Fahrenheit 451 Guy Montag changes from an unthinking individual, an automaton of his depersonalized society who ignores his soul, into a man who realizes his spiritual needs as a human being.

It is interesting that Montag becomes the Book of Ecclesiastes because of the message of its verse:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven....a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn...a time to keep and to cast away....a time to keep silent, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

For, in a sense, Montag passes through different times in his life that parallel the times described in this verse. In the exposition of Bradbury's novel, Montag enjoys the lowest creative act, that of destruction:

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.

He delights in watching the "flapping pigeon-winged books die" as he torches the forbidden property. However, after he meets the pedestrian Clarisse, who walks in a society in which no one walks, Montag is unnerved. She questions Montag to perceive if he can think for himself, and she concludes, "You never stop to think what I've asked you." This meeting with the delightful young Clarisse effectively leaves Montag wondering about his contentment with life: "He was not happy." Nor apparently is his wife Mildred, whom he finds in a death stupor from taking pills. After plumber-type emergency responders pump her stomach indifferently, Mildred is her old self the next day, remembering nothing. This mindless insensitivity of Mildred stirs Montag's recall of Clarisse and the contrast of personalities. 

Generated by Clarisse's further conversations with him, along with his realization that his personal life is empty as he dwells with an insipid woman, a "season" of doubt develops in the mind of Guy Montag. One day he impulsively catches a book during a burning of a house. Then, after Clarisse disappears and his boss Beatty comes to his house and lectures him about the dangers of books, ironically evincing a knowledge of several works, Montag grows increasingly interested in the contents of books. He contacts a former professor named Faber, whom he previously encountered one day in a park.

Thus begins Montag's "time to keep, and a time to cast away." He is instructed by Faber through the use of an ear piece and starts to read a bible he has stolen, memorizing parts of EcclesiastesBut, Beatty grows suspicious of Montag. Further, his wife, a mere automaton of the society, reports Montag for possession of books. The following day, Beatty takes Montag to his own house, forcing him to torch his own home. In rebellion, Montag turns his torch onto Beatty.

After this criminal act, Montag flees to the house of Faber and he becomes part of a nationwide network of bibliophiles who have memorized many of the great works in the hope of restoring society after the war which has begun. Faber gives Montag the role of memorizing the Book of Ecclesiastes. For, Montag now it is 

...a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

He lives with a community that embraces him with optimism for a future in which people's minds are opened. It is a new Montag who "felt the slow stir of words, the slow simmer" of his mind's awakening.

amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of the novel, Montag is a mindless servant of the state. He does not question his role in his marriage or as a fireman and he does not even second guess his own thoughts. His transformation begins after he meets Clarisse. She is the one who gets Montag to begin questioning everything from his own happiness to the reason for burning books. The second part of Montag's transformation is when he starts reading some of the books he'd stolen from the fires. Then he contacts Faber, an English professor, and the ideas they share only adds even more fuel to the fire of Montag's thirst for knowledge. By the end of the novel, Montag has gone from not even being aware of the mental and social prison he was in to an enlightened and increasingly inquisitive state of mind. It is a complete mental transformation. In fact, he becomes knowledge itself when Granger tells him, “If anything should happen to Harris, you are the Book of Ecclesiastes” (134). It is fitting that the novel begins with the word “changed” in italics. “It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed” (1). This is an ironic twist.  Instead of changing things by destroying them, Montag is changing the world by preserving knowledge and he, in turn, changes himself.