Fahrenheit 451 Questions and Answers
by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 book cover
Start Your Free Trial

In Fahrenheit 451, is there a quote that shows Montag realizing burning books is wrong?

Expert Answers info

David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2017

write11,857 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

And I thought about books. And for the first time I realized that a man was behind each one of the books. A man had to think them up. A man had to take a long time to put them down on paper. And I’d never even thought that thought before.

These words are spoken by Montag to Mildred the night after he and the other fireman burned some books and with them, the old lady who owned them. Books were so important to the old lady that she was prepared to burn with them rather than give them up. This deeply disturbing episode has made a profound impact on Montag, who's now started to wonder whether burning books, something he's done throughout the whole of his working life, is really such a good thing after all.

The old lady's gruesome, tragic death has provided a catalyst for Montag to think about books seriously for the first time. Now he no longer sees books as just objects, as bundles of paper to be despised and destroyed. He recognizes them as the expression of ideas, as valuable cultural artifacts that disseminate knowledge. He now sees the connection between the books and the human beings who sat down to right them, and this makes him see books in a whole different light.

This revelation is a major turning point in the story. From now on, Montag's disillusion with book-burning will only grow, until eventually he becomes a fully-fledged outlaw determined to play his part in bringing about the end of this despotic regime.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2015

write10,312 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

After Montag witnesses a woman commit suicide with her books, he begins to have second thoughts about being a fireman and refuses to come in to work the next day. After Captain Beatty visits Montag and attempts to persuade him that the pursuit of knowledge is meaningless, Montag shows Mildred his stash of illegal novels that he has kept hidden in his ventilator. Mildred is hysterical when she initially sees the books, and Montag has to calm her down. Montag then expresses his desire to read the books. He elaborates on his rebellious feelings by telling his wife,

But I kept putting her [the woman who died with her books] alongside the firemen in the house last night, and I suddenly realized I didn't like them at all, and I didn't like myself at all anymore. And I thought maybe it would be best if the firemen themselves were burnt.

At the beginning of part two, Montag is reading the books with his wife and once again provides evidence that he believes book burning is wrong by discussing dead authors and the importance of their work. Montag picks up one of the books that he is reading and tells Mildred,

These men [authors] have been dead a long time, but I know their words point, one way or another, to Clarisse.

After meeting Clarisse and witnessing a woman willingly burn to death with her books, Montag has experienced a dramatic change in his outlook on the fireman institution and the censorship laws.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Jason Lulos eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write3,307 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and Science

There are a few quotes in the book that show Montag beginning to question his role as a fireman and a few, certainly towards the end, that show he has changed his views about burning books.

Montag really begins to question things after a few conversations with Clarisse McClellan. During one of those conversations, she noted that people used to put out fires rather than starting them. Montag denies that this ever occurred, but it evidently stuck in his mind. After his last conversation with Clarisse, Montag is at the firehouse and he is talking to Beatty and asks, "Didn't firemen prevent fires rather than stoke them up and get them going?" Just prior to uttering this line, Montag uses the phrase "once upon a time" and Beatty calls him on it. Montag worries that Beatty will become suspicious. (Montag had read the first line of a book of fairy tales at a previous fire.) 

Just after this exchange, the firemen are called to a house and Montag steals a book. This shows his curiosity about books. More significantly, the owner chooses to stay in the house and burn with the books. Stealing a book and being so traumatized as this woman burned with her books is when he really realizes that burning books may be wrong. Montag tries to get Mildred to question things as he does. During this conversation, he tries to convey the passion of the woman in the fire: 

"You weren't there, you didn't see," he said. "There must be something in books, things we can't imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don't stay for nothing." 

This is the first definitive moment that Montag speaks aloud that there must be something important about books and therefore, it might be wrong to burn them. 

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial