What happens in the first twenty pages of Part II of Fahrenheit 451?

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caledon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Part II, The Sieve and the Sand, begins with Montag and Millie reading (although it's really just Montag reading aloud while Millie complains). It's set on a rainy afternoon in November. Montag is reflecting that the books keep reminding him of Clarisse, in one way or another. Millie tries to shut this down by saying Clarisse is dead, and Montag should talk about something more cheerful. She's clearly unnerved, both by the absence of her screens (which have been turned off, rendering the house oddly gray and quiet) and by her suspicions and paranoia. These are confirmed by a "scratching" at the door, a "probing sniff", and "electric steam" - indicating that the Hound is at the door, and someone is on to Montag's actions.

Millie again protests that Montag's efforts are pointless; she worries that if Beatty finds out, he'll burn her "family" (the characters she interacts with in her entertainment programs). Montag counters that Millie has little idea what she's talking about; she not only OD'd recently but she hasn't seen the horrible things Montag has; she isn't even unnerved by the sound of jet bombers passing overhead at that moment. Montag questions how they became so complacent as to allow that intrusion, and suggests that the books offer a way to avoid these and other mistakes. Millie receives a timely phone call from a friend that saves her from further discomfort. Montag considers who he might turn to for help, and recalls meeting a man in a park a year before.

The man's name was Faber, and he was an English teacher at a college which had closed due to lack of students. Montag saw Faber concealing a book, and began a conversation with him. Faber gradually lessened his fear, and at the end of an hour gave Montag his address and phone number. 

Montag calls Faber, and somewhat bluntly asks how many copies of the Bible, Shakespeare and Plato are left in the world. Faber suspects a trap, replies "none!" and hangs up. Montag has a copy of the Old Testament, and suspects it may now be the only one. Montag decides that, before returning the book to Beatty, he must find a way to duplicate it. Before leaving, he asks Millie if her "family" loves her. He receives no reply.

The scene jumps to Montag on the subway, remembering a time as a child when he attempted to fill a sieve with sand, not realizing it was impossible. Thinking that he might have no choice but to fill the sieve of his mind with the sand of words, he attempts to memorize a passage from the book, but is interrupted in a war of words and, metaphorically, ideologies, from a loud and annoying commercial for Denham's Dentifrice. He exits the subway and goes to Faber's house.

Faber looks very old, but livens up when he sees the book and realizes that Montag is truthful. He gives a melancholy retrospection on how the message of the Bible has changed (Christ is now unrecognizable and advertises products) and how he feels partly responsible for the state of the world, by allowing things to happen without opposing them when he had a chance.

Montag wishes to understand what he's reading, and for someone to truly listen to him. He hopes Faber will be that person.

Faber replies that the books themselves are unimportant; the information they carried is important. It could have been carried over into the new society, but was not. Three things are missing.

One: Quality, the "texture of information". Faber suggests that modern society has attempted to do away with the "dirty" and sanctify the "clean".

Two: Leisure, time to think. While the world appears to have much "free" time, this time is in fact inundated with thoughtless sensation.

Three: The right to act based on things learned from the first two points.

Montag suggests printing copies of the books. This rapidly escalates into the idea of planting those copies in the homes of other firemen, and turning society on its head when the scandal is revealed. Faber reflects on the idea but dismisses it; society is too deeply rotten to be saved by such a small act as this, and the imminent war will do the work for them.

Montag begins ripping pages out of the book. Horrified, Faber agrees to Montag's idea, and promises to go to an old printer the next day.

Montag worries that Beatty will be able to smooth-talk him back into complacency the next time they meet, so Faber gives Montag a small radio that fits in his ear, an invention of his own that he funded by playing the stock market. Faber adds that he can read to Montag as he sleeps, so that Montag will better be able to retain the information.