Ray Bradbury depicts the quintessential dystopian society in his science fiction classic Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury’s novel is about the firemen whose responsibility in this totalitarian system is to locate and burn every book they can find, and to similarly burn down the homes of anyone caught in possession of books. Bradbury’s protagonist, Montag, is a fireman. As the novel begins, Bradbury has Montag reflect on the satisfaction he holds in his job. The very first sentence in the novel reads: “IT WAS A PLEASURE TO BURN,” which is followed by this observation: “IT was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.” Bradbury emphasizes how Montag has become, for lack of a better word, institutionalized. He has drank the Kool-Aid. He is a firm believer in his mission and has become hardened to the human ramifications of his actions. As Bradbury continues,
“Montag grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame. He knew that when he returned to the firehouse, he might wink at himself, a minstrel man, burnt corked, in the mirror. Later, going to sleep, he would feel the fiery smile still gripped by his face muscles in the dark. It never went away, that smile. It never went away, as long as he could remember.”
Montag, however, is not immune to the virtues of humanity. His “awakening” occurs when he encounters Clarisse, a 17-year-old free-spirit who engages the fireman in conversation. Up to this point, in fact, for the past ten years, Montag has dutifully gone to work, burned books and houses, and then gone home to his wife. He takes little notice of the world around him, and certainly has no time or interest in appreciating nature. It is in this atmosphere that Clarissa’s upbeat, playful, innocent demeanor begins to intrigue him. As Clarisse continues to express her sentiments towards the natural beauty of nature, Montag is suddenly seized with the recognition that he has, for years, blocked out the beauties of the world. In the following passage, Bradbury captures the infancy of his protagonist’s transformation:
"Bet I know something else you don't. There's dew on the grass in the morning."
He suddenly couldn't remember if he had known this or not, and it made him quite irritable.
"And if you look"-she nodded at the sky-"there's a man in the moon."
He hadn't looked for a long time.
Clarisse is exposing Montag to the life he has been missing. He has grown numb to human emotions and to the world around him, focused entirely on his job. He had forgotten the innocent, simple pleasures of childhood, and had grown hardened to the simple pleasures of human existence.