What ironic event involving Montag happens at the end of Fahrenheit 451's "The Sieve and the Sand"?

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At the end of part two of "The Sieve and the Sand," in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, the fire company truck stops in front of Montag's house. The very last line of the section shows that this is a surprise to Montag who has not been paying close attention to their destination. He has, however, been watching his boss, Beatty, who has been watching him with suppressed excitement.

Montag has been thinking about the best way to stay out of trouble, particularly because he was reading poetry earlier that day to his wife and her friends. In a society where books are banned, and he is a fireman whose job it is to destroy houses with books, he figures he has been flirting with disaster. He has just asked himself...

When would he stop being entirely mad and be quiet, be very quiet indeed?

However, whether he knows it or not, his time is up. Montag first notices that Beatty is driving—very unusual. Whereas Montag has been wondering how he will be able to stop act entirely mad, Beatty seems to be something of a lunatic himself.

"Here we go!"

Montag looked up. Beatty never drove, but he was driving tonight, slamming the Salamander around corners, leaning forward high on the driver's throne, his massive black slicker flapping out behind so that he seemed a great black bat flying above the engine, over the brass numbers, taking the full wind.

"Here we go to keep the world happy, Montag!"

Beatty's pink, phosphorescent cheeks glimmered in the high darkness, and he was smiling furiously.

Beatty is driving and Montag has to wonder subconsciously why. He is also driving like a madman, and Montag imagines that he looks like a huge bat—a creature of the night, stealing life—evil personified. He seems to float above the brass numbers of the engine, hiding perhaps the glimmer of light that might be reflected by the brass, perhaps alluding to evil trying to diminish the light of goodness shining in a world of darkness. Then Montag notices that Beatty's cheeks are almost glowing in the dark, something else quite unnatural, and that he is grinning "furiously." Madness seems to sit at Beatty's fingertips. (And based on how he acts at the start of the next section, perhaps it does.)

There are two ironies at the end of this section. Montag, without looking up to see where he is, has decided that he can no longer live a lie: he does not have what it takes to burn down houses, not with what he has learned about life (through Clarisse) and discovered by reading.

I can't do it, he thought. How can I go at this new assignment, how can I go on burning things? I can't go in this place.

This is ironic for two reasons: on the night Montag decides he cannot burn another house, he discovers to his amazement that he is sitting at his own address.

This is also ironic in that the fireman sent to burn another house has been sent to burn his own house.

Beatty was watching his face.

Once again, the sense of madness is present in the character of Beatty. Throughout the ride and now at their destination, Beatty is unnaturally preoccupied with Montag. At the end he is watching Montag, like a scorpion watching his poisoned prey realize it is about to die—Beatty wants to see how Montag will react to the realization that the house the men plan to burn tonight is Montag's.

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Explain Montag's memory of the sand dune in Fahrenheit 451. Why do you think the title of this part of the novel is named "The Sieve and the Sand"?

At the beginning of Part Two, which is entitled "The Sieve and the Sand," Montag attempts to read scripture while riding a distracting subway train on his way to see Faber. On the train, Montag recalls a memory from his childhood when he visited the beach. At the beach, Montag's cousin bet him a dime that he could not fill up a sieve with sand. As Montag poured the hot sand into the sieve, it sifted through the screen at the bottom of the sieve. The faster Montag poured, the faster the sand sifted through the bottom. Essentially, the same thing happens to Montag's mind regarding his ability to comprehend the texts he is reading on the distracting train. The faster Montag reads, the less information he can obtain. The annoying Denham's Dentrifice advertisement continues to avert his attention, and he is unable to comprehend anything that he reads. The title of Part Two alludes to Montag's childhood memory, which metaphorically represents his struggle to comprehend texts.  

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Explain Montag's memory of the sand dune in Fahrenheit 451. Why do you think the title of this part of the novel is named "The Sieve and the Sand"?

When Montag was a child, a cousin challenged him to fill a sieve, which is a kitchen utensil used to drain items and has a lot of holes in it, with sand.  As he filled the sieve, the sand drained out. He was promised a dime if he could fill the sieve.

"And the faster he poured, the faster it sieved through with a hot whispering." (pg 78)

The memory came back to him as he is sitting on a train heading for Faber's house.  He has suddenly come to the realization that books are important and that men spent a lot of time writing down ideas and those ideas needed to be saved.  He makes an analogy with the sand and sieve to his efforts to memorize the Bible.

"If you read fast and read all, maybe some of the sand will stay in the sieve.  But he read and the words fell through..." (pg 78)

He realized that in a few hours he would have to turn the book over to Beatty, and he only had a few hours to memorize as much as he could.  He willed himself to memorize as much as he could.  At the end of the book, when he meets Granger, he says,

"I thought I had part of the Book of Ecclesiastes and maybe a little of Revelation, but I haven't even that now." (pg 150)

Granger assures him that when it is needed, he will remember.  He does remember after the bomb hits.  He becomes the Book of Ecclesiastes.

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Explain Montag's memory of the sand dune in Fahrenheit 451. Why do you think the title of this part of the novel is named "The Sieve and the Sand"?

Montag remembers the memory of trying to fill a sieve with sand because it was a hopeless task, just as memorizing the books seems to be.

A sieve is a bowl with tiny holes.  It is used to sort larger sediment from smaller, less valuable pieces.

Montag has become disenchanted with his society.  He used to enjoy his job as a fireman, burning books.  Now he sympathizes with the book-hiders and is actually joining them.  He stole a Bible from a woman who decided to die with her books, and is desperately trying to memorize it to save it.  As he tries to memorize the book, he remembers how he felt when he tried to fill a sieve with sand.

Once as a child he had sat upon a yellow dune by the sea in the middle of the blue and hot summer day, trying to fill a sieve with sand, because some cruel cousin had said, "Fill this sieve and you'll get a dime!" (Part 2)

Part II is called “The Sieve and the Sand” because Montag’s attempt to understand society and fit into it has become hopeless.  It is not exactly that Montag considers Faber and his friends as cruelly tricking him in the memorizing of books, as the cousin did with the sand.  Instead, Montag feels hopeless because all he knew is gone.  He feels lost and confused.  As much as he wants to save the books, he is not sure he is up to the task.

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In Fahrenheit 451, how does the “sieve and the sand” analogy apply to Montag?

The sieve and the sand form part of a metaphor for humans’ inability to affect the development of society. The memory that Montag has of trying to keep sand from flowing through a sieve provides an analogy to his frustration as he tries to remember things he used to know—specifically a complete Bible verse. The specific issue of loss of memory connects with his broader discontentment at being unable to improve his society or even his own marriage. After he recalls this incident, Montag’s frustration stimulates him to change his attitudes and behavior. Building as well from his conversations with Clarice and his sorrow and anger over her apparent death, Montag’s new resolve to positively change the world marks a radical shift away from his former passivity.

“The Sieve and the Sand” is the title of the second part of the novel, which chronicles Montag’s transition from obedient fireman to discontented rebel. While on the subway, Montag tries to retain the Bible verses he is reading, but his senses are bombarded by toothpaste ads blaring from the speakers. He tries in vain to convince himself,

If you read fast and read all, maybe some of the sand will stay in the sieve. But he read and the words fell through.

As he becomes more agitated at not being able to tune out the Denham’s ad, he goes from awareness that he has been “numb” to feeling a conviction that remembering the text is vital, which seems like “a fierce whisper of hot sand.”

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In the novel Fahrenheit 451, what are Montag's two childhood memories in "Part Two: The Sieve and the Sand"?

Montag recalls two childhood events throughout "Part Two: The Sieve and the Sand." At the beginning of "Part Two: The Sieve and the Sand," Montag attempts to read and memorize Bible verses while he rides on the subway. Montag is continually distracted by an advertisement for Denham's Dentifrice that is blaring through the loudspeakers on the train. Montag compared his failure to retain and remember the Bible verses, to a time when he was young and went to the beach with his cousin. His cousin bet him a dime that he could not fill a sieve with sand. The faster Montag poured the sand into the sieve, the faster it sifted through. Montag's mind is similar to the sieve, and the information he is attempting to retain is essentially the sand in the analogy.

Another childhood memory that Montag recalls takes place while he is staring at Mildred's friends and listening to them discuss their superficial, immoral lives. Montag says that the women's faces reminded him of the faces of the saints that he looked at as a child when he went to church. He says that the saint's faces meant nothing to him, as he tried to get a sense of what religion was and understand its meaning. Montag felt numb as he looked at the porcelain statues as a child, similar to how he views his parlor with Mildred's friends talking about nonsense.

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The title of part two (The Sieve and the Sand) is symbolic. What does it mean and how does it relate to Fahrenheit 451?

A sieve is an instrument that sand can flow through. It is like a flour-sifter, or the toy in the sandbox that has holes in the bottom. This is symbolic because Montag worries that his mind is like a sieve. Information comes in, but it filters right through his mind and goes out. This is what spurs his interest to get a mentor. That is where Faber comes in. Montag hypothesizes that if Faber is in his life, he will be able to catch more grains of sand.


Once as a child he had sat upon a yellow dune by the sea in the middle of the blue and hot summer day, trying to fill a sieve with sand, because some cruel cousin had said, "Fill this sieve and you'll get a dime!" `And the faster he poured, the faster it sifted through with a hot whispering. His hands were tired, the sand was boiling, the sieve was empty. Seated there in the midst of July, without a sound, he felt the tears move down his cheeks.

Montag has a memory that makes him remember how futile filling a sieve was for him in his childhood. He remembers that the faster he tried to fill the sieve, the harder it was to make sure it got filled up. In fact, it would never fill. This distracts and concerns Montag all at the same time.

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In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, how can the instance with the sieve and the sand relate to what Montag experiences in the second section of the book? 

In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Montag relates the story of how, as a child, an unkind cousin told him that if he could fill a sieve he would receive a dime. Try as he might, he was unable to do so because the sand passed through the holes in the sieve. In essence, he was trying to do the impossible and was greatly frustrated. After a time he realized that no other outcome could have been achieved.

Montag is presented with the task set before him by Clarisse—who planted the seeds of attentiveness in Montag's mind as he has lived among others of his society that have been "pounded into submission." Original thought has been strongly discouraged; books are banned. Seeing the world as if through new eyes, Montag is no longer capable of passing by people and things around him without seeing them—as he had before. Now he feels driven to catalog these perceptions in his brain and try to comprehend the significance of each.

Montag battles desperately to make sense of the words in the Bible that he holds in his hand. It has been said, and Faber has confirmed, that there are no more Bibles in existence. Montag believes he may be holding the only one left in his part of the world. He believes that he will ultimately have to turn the book over to his boss Beatty, but until then he must read and remember every word. However, like filling a sieve with sand, it is impossible. One rease is that as he reads, the piped-in music and commercials from the speakers that are used to promote mindlessness are thumping at his brain even as he tries to memorize a simple verse. 

...he remembered the terrible logic of that sieve, and he looked down and saw that he was carrying the Bible open. There were people in the suction train but he held the book in his hands and the silly thought came to him, if you read fast and read all, maybe some of the sand will stay in the sieve. 

It is in this way that the motif of sand in a sieve is illustrated, as the words he reads seem to fall on the ground before him rather than taking root in his mind...

...he read and the words fell through...[but he thought] no phrase must escape me, each line must be memorized. I will myself to do it.

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