Fahrenheit 451 Summary
Fahrenheit 451 is a novel by Ray Bradbury about Guy Montag, a “fireman” who burns books in a future world in which reading is illegal.
- After an encounter with his new neighbor, the young and free-thinking Clarisse, Montag begins questioning his job as a fireman.
- Clarisse disappears. Montag begins reading books and, with a former professor named Faber, plots to overthrow the firemen.
- Montag’s wife reports him. He is forced to burn his house and kills his boss, Beatty. He escapes the city before a nuclear war begins and joins a group of vagabonds who memorize books to preserve them.
The main character, Guy Montag, is a fireman. In the dystopian world of the novel, a "fireman" is someone who burns books—in this society, all books are illegal contraband. Any citizen caught hiding them is taken away by the authorities, and the firemen burn their house down to destroy any books hidden inside.
The narrative begins late one night, as Montag is finishing up a house fire with his colleagues. He cleans himself up and heads home, noticing as he approaches his house that there's a young woman in a white dress standing nearby. She introduces herself as Clarisse McLellan, aged seventeen—her family has just moved in next door, she tells him.
As they chat, Clarisse reveals herself to be an eccentric, complex young woman. Unlike most people—who live contentedly in their rigid, structured society without asking too many questions—Clarisse is inquisitive and curious. She asks him if it's true that firemen used to put out fires instead of starting them, and Montag finds the question absurd. "Houses have always been fireproof," he assures her.
As they say goodbye, Clarisse asks Montag if he's happy. The question confuses him, as though he'd never thought to ask it before. He arrives home, contemplating the refreshing strangeness of the interaction, and finds that his wife, Mildred, has taken an entire bottle of sleeping pills.
Montag calls the authorities, and two men arrive with a machine to pump Mildred’s stomach. The technicians are very casual and cavalier as they handle Mildred's procedure, which Montag finds to be incredibly unsettling. When he asks why they didn't send doctors, they tell him there just aren't enough to keep up—they get nine or ten cases a night like this. Eventually Mildred seems rejuvenated, and she wakes the next morning with no memory of the night before.
In the coming days, Montag sees Clarisse around the neighborhood, and they begin to develop a friendship. She starts to leave him small gifts that show her appreciation of the natural environment around them—flowers, chestnuts, preserved leaves. One day, Montag tells her warmly that she makes him feel a bit like a father. As they grow closer, she reveals more of her observations about the world: that other people don't talk to each other about anything, that nobody likes to go outside, that other children are violent and scare her.
Around this time, the radio starts predicting that war is imminent. Montag has stopped seeing Clarisse around the neighborhood, but her influence on him is tangible—he's noticing things about the world that he never has before, and he is starting to wonder about why things work the way they do in society. As the firemen are called to an alarm one night, he finds the burning procedure to be more difficult than usual. He can't help his curiosity, and he steals a bible. The owner of the illicit collection, a stubborn old woman, refuses to leave the premises. As soon as the firemen douse the home in kerosene, she strikes the match herself.
Shaken by the woman's suicide and his theft, Montag returns home and begins acting strangely. He notices how wide the divide between him and Mildred has become and contemplates how little they know each other even after ten years of marriage. He asks her if she knows what happened to...
(The entire section is 1,289 words.)