The Hearth and the Salamander
Guy Montag is a fireman in the future. Firemen in the future start fires. Books are illegal and firemen burn books and the houses where they are found along with an occasional reader. Guy believes lighting books on fire is a noble profession, much in the same way a 12-year old believes having a match fight in the kitchen is an excellent way to spend a Friday night.
On his way home one evening, Guy meets his new neighbor, Clarisse, who challenges everything Guy believes. She mentions, for example, that firemen used to put out fires and not start them. Guy is strangely attracted to her. Although reading, taking walks alone, and engaging in conversation is unacceptable to Guy, an adult fireman being attracted to a seventeen-year-old complete stranger is OK.
Clarisse asks him if he is happy. As Guy walks into his home he realizes he's not. As he enters his bedroom he notices Mildred, his ear phone wearing, TV watching, no-brained drone of a wife has attempted suicide (again). Two hospital workers arrive and pump her stomach as the sonic boom of fighter jets is heard overhead.
Guy runs into Clarisse the next day on her way to a psychiatric appointment which the government has forced her to undergo.
Remember when you worked at McDonalds, headed over to Burger King, and ate three Whoppers? As a result, you felt guilty peddling Big Macs to unsuspecting meat-eaters. That's how Guy feels at the firehouse after speaking with Clarisse.
The mechanical hound at the firehouse makes Montag feel uneasy, not "there's a doberman sniffing my crotch uneasy," but a "there's a mechanical hound that could track me down, inject me with poison, and kill me, and I'm feeling a little freaked out right now because I'm harboring illegal thoughts about reading, but I'm OK about my attraction to the seventeen-year old stranger even though I'm an adult firefighter with a wife" uneasy.
The two speak daily on Montag's commute home. At work Montag begins to ask questions about what firemen used to do. The alarm rings and the crew speeds toward a house where books have been discovered in the attic. As the books, the house, and the old lady who lives there burst into flames, Guy sneaks a book under his coat.
Montag returns home, realizes his relationship with his wife is meaningless. She only talks about TV. He calls in sick to work and tells Mildred he wants to quit. They argue. Captain Beatty, Montag's boss arrives. He knows what's going on, explains to Montag the danger of books, allows him to come to work later and return the book he stole from the old lady's. Beatty leaves and Montag begins reading Gulliver's Travels.
Analysis: Montag's world is crumbling. The society in which he lives is constantly at war and no one is able to think for himself. Suicides are common. Book burning is the law. Up until meeting Clarisse, Montag is not only fine with it, he's an agent of the book burners. Clarisse has opened his eyes to a new reality. Just like the McDonalds worker who begins eating Whoppers and finds Big Mac's repulsive, Montag realizes he must change, but change in this society is dangerous.