Part 2 of Fahrenheit 451 begins after Montag has revealed a hidden book and started reading to Mildred. The title of this part, “The Sieve and the Sand,” refers to the futility of trying to accomplish a specific goal by using the wrong equipment. The goal, the equipment, or both must change. The literal meaning of the phrase is connected to a memory that comes back to Montag. He recalls a childhood incident when he was at the beach. Determined to win a dime from a cousin, he applied himself to trying to fill a sieve with sand. Because he was an inexperienced child, he did not understand that the task was impossible.
As the section begins, Montag is starting to realize that he no longer wants to be a fireman. He now accepts that many things are fundamentally wrong with his society. Burning books, houses, and even people will not correct those problems; in fact, the firemen are contributing to the problem. Montag thought that the books he was secretly collecting might tell him what he wanted to know, but his individual efforts to find answers, such as by quickly and distractedly reading a Bible on the subway, are insufficient to answer his questions. The words run through his head like the sand he remembers. He does not yet have the right equipment to accomplish what he wants to do. A sieve is the wrong tool for holding sand.
Through his conversation with Faber, Montag figures out that the books themselves are not the solutions for society’s problems. He embraces a more radical approach to change. Rather than just save books, he will print more, and instead of just quitting the fire department, he will dedicate himself to destroying it.