In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, what are the forces acting upon the protagonist, Montag, at the beginning of the story? What other forces help Montag in the recognition of his dilemma?

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caledon | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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These questions can also be phrased in terms of story development; usually we are given some sort of initial setting or introduction by which to understand the characters and the world they live in, followed by a crisis or a call to action which gives the character an opportunity to distinguish themselves. Fahrenheit 451 begins by introducing us to Montag, his job, his wife and home life, and the dystopian future that he lives in. This is quickly followed by a crisis that puts his dilemma into focus.

The forces acting upon Montag at the beginning of the story are:

  • His job and society: as a fireman, he is powerful and feared (Clarisse says as much within the first few pages). There is a certain poeticism to his work, and judging from his thoughts and words, he seems very pleased with the status quo and his high place in it; he doesn't really question things, but he does have a sense of unease which begins to reveal itself more and more pointedly.
  • Captain Beatty: While Beatty is something of an aspect of Montag's job, he is also, in the literary sense, a guardian and gatekeeper, and the visible presence of the government. Beatty has a habit of saying intimidating and ominous things that imply he is fully aware of Montag's inner turmoil and is only a step away from reporting him.
  • His wife: we are introduced to Mildred via her overdosing on sleeping pills, which is a fairly common thing according to the nonchalant medics that arrive to treat her. She is revealed to be pleasant but almost totally absorbed into the unthinking lifestyle that characterizes the common person in this society.
  • Himself: Montag's initial conversation with Clarisse seems to set some doubts within him, but this is really just a stirring-up of feelings that Montag has always had. He suggests there are too many people in the world, that things are not right, and he "doesn't know anything anymore".

Montag's second conversation with Clarisse is much more specific: she says he is not like the other firemen and it's strange that thinks and doubts would choose that profession. This is as much Clarisse's observation as it is a message to the reader that Montag is a sympathetic character with the opportunity for growth.

Clarisse's conversations help Montag to recognize his dilemma, but the most significant force that acts on Montag is his "unconscious" thievery of the book from the house that the firemen burn. He specifically notes how his hand seems to act on its own in tucking the book under his arm, and the subsequent thrill and dread that he experiences, wondering if he's going to be caught. His conversations (such as they are) with Mildred also highlight his growing discomfort; as his wife, Mildred should know Montag better than anyone, and yet she seems totally oblivious.

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