What does fire mean to Montag in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451?

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The first sentences in Ray Bradbury’s science fiction classic Fahrenheit 451 provide a good indication of Guy Montag’s initial view of the use of fire as a tool of his trade: 

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

Montag is himself an instrument of government policy.  Bradbury’s depiction of a dystopian society in which possession of books is a crime punishable by the burning of one’s home places those who administer that punishment in an exalted position.  Bradbury’s society enlists firemen for the purpose of executing a totalitarian policy intended to ensure a compliant and ignorant population.  As Fahrenheit 451 progresses, however, especially after meeting 17-year-old Clarisse and Professor Faber, the latter the repository of historical knowledge and understanding regarding the government’s ban on books, his views both on the government and on his role in enforcing immoral edicts begins to evolve.  This evolution occurs prior to his encounters with Professor Faber; it is his conversations with Clarisse and the emotional emptiness he increasingly feels towards both his job and his wife that open the door to a reexamination of his life.  As Bradbury’s protagonist reflects on his job and on the laws he is paid to enforce, his doubt about both assume a more prominent place in his demeanor.  During a serious lapse in judgment – questioning the status quo before his superior, Captain Beatty – Montag recalls one of Clarisse’s comments:

“Montag hesitated, ‘Was-was it always like this? The firehouse, our work? I mean, well, once upon a time...’

‘Once upon a time!’ Beatty said. ‘What kind of talk is THAT?’

Fool, thought Montag to himself, you'll give it away. At the last fire, a book of fairy tales, he'd glanced at a single line. ‘I mean,’ he said, ‘in the old days, before homes were completely fireproofed.’ Suddenly it...

(The entire section contains 668 words.)

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