What did Montag do in the old lady's attic?

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Towards the beginning of the novel, Montag and the firefighters receive a call to burn an old woman's library which is located in her attic. When Montag breaks through the attic door, a fountain of books immediately crashes down on him. As Montag is lighting the books on fire, he...

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Towards the beginning of the novel, Montag and the firefighters receive a call to burn an old woman's library which is located in her attic. When Montag breaks through the attic door, a fountain of books immediately crashes down on him. As Montag is lighting the books on fire, he reads a line from one of the pages that says "Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine" (Bradbury 34). Montag then does the unthinkable by stealing one of the books in the attic. Montag steals the book by instinct and curses his hand for grabbing the novel. The firefighters then light the rest of the books on fire, and the old woman chooses to die with her novels. After witnessing the woman commit suicide, Montag begins to wonder what is inside books that is so special and powerful. The reader learns that this was not the first book that Montag had stolen, and he begins his search to find meaning to life through reading and analyzing literature.

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In the old lady's attic, Montag does the unthinkable: he steals a book.  In Montag's world, books are outlawed and burned.  It is Montag's job to burn the books.  This makes his actions even more surprising.  He goes against the job that he has been given, and against the job that he enjoys doing.  This act of rebellion happens almost against his will, indicating that he is torn between his responsibilities to his community and his new feelings.  Throughout the rest of the book, Montag continues to struggle with this inner conflict.  This clearly illustrates the literary conflict of man vs. self.  Montag feels himself pulled in opposing directions throughout the book, fueled as well by fear of reproach by his community.

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This part of the novel comes towards the beginning and shows us what Montag's job was and presents us with a world where books are considered illegal and burnt as a result. However, what is surprising about this is the way that Montag acts, seemingly in an involuntary fashion, by stealing one of the books he finds in the old woman's attic and not destroying it as he should. Note how this is presented in the text:

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. Now it plunged the book back under his arm, pressed it tight to sweating armpit, rushed out empty, with a magician's flourish! Look here! Innocent! Look!

So, Montag steals a book that should be destroyed in the old woman's attic--an act of rebellion which is very dangerous. However, you need to note the way that this act of stealing introduces a motif in the novel. Montag's hands again and again are shown to act in an involuntary fashion, seemingly independent of Montag's own desires, thoughts and wishes, and this is the first instance of this motif. You would do well to identify other examples and consider how this shows the deeply divided self of Montag.

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