What does Montag say he always smells like?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of the novel, Montag meets his new neighbor, Clarisse McClellan, who immediately recognizes him as a firefighter. When Montag introduces himself, Clarisse tells him that she would have guessed his occupation with her eyes shut simply from the smell of his clothes. Montag replies by telling Clarisse that he always smells like kerosene and his wife is constantly complaining about it. Clarisse then begins to circle Montag, and he feels as if she is analyzing him, which makes him feel uncomfortable. Montag then mentions that he has become so used to the smell of kerosene that it is practically his perfume. The reason Montag always smells like kerosene is because his job requires him to burn books. In Bradbury's dystopian society, books are illegal to possess and distribute. Ironically, firefighters do not put out fires in Bradbury's dystopian society, and instead soak books in kerosene before lighting them on fire.

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Early in Part One of Fahrenheit 451, Montag meets Clarisse for the first time and comments that he always smells of kerosene. In fact, the smell lingers so strongly on Montag that even Mildred complains about it: 

"My wife always complains," he laughed. "You never wash it off completely." 

Montag always smells of kerosene because he is a fireman and this substance is one of the tools of his profession, used to destroy the homes of people who possess illegal copies of books. It is interesting to note that Montag loves this smell at the beginning of the book, claiming to Clarisse that it is like "perfume." This is significant because it represents his love of burning and his commitment to the fireman system. After meeting Clarisse, however, this love of kerosene will quickly fade.