What is Montag doing at the beginning of Fahrenheit 451?
Fahrenheit 451 opens with Montag doing his job as a fireman by burning books. This is a job which Montag really enjoys and this is shown by Bradbury's use of imagery. He likens Montag to an "amazing conductor," for example, who commands the hose in the same way as a conductor manages the instruments in his orchestra. Bradbury also likens the hose itself to a "great python" which spits out its venom (kerosene) onto the world. Moreover, Montag's pleasure in burning is so evident that it dominates his physical description:
"Montag grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame."
Once the burning is done, Montag returns to the firehouse where he washes and puts on fresh clothes. He leaves the firehouse and begins the journey home, unaware that tonight he will meet Clarisse McClellan. Clarisse is his teenage neighbour and she will have a dramatic and significant impact on the way he feels about burning and book-reading.
As the story opens, Montag and his fellow firemen are burning books. Montag enjoys the act of burning and at this point in the story, he has not given any real thought to what the act of burning truly is beyond it being merely an activity. He has not thought about the implications of his job and he has not thought about why they (the firemen, the government) burn books. He just knows that owning books is illegal and as a result of that illegal activity, he and the other firemen burn books and arrest people. It is Clarisse who begins to get Montag to consider what he is doing. She has singled him out to talk to. She asks him questions and he lives in a society where questions, real, thought-provoking questions, are seldom asked of people. The main question she asks that starts him on the road he takes through the story is "Are you happy?" It's after this that he begins to question what he is doing and why he is doing it.