Fahrenheit 451 Book Summary for Students

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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.

The Sieve and the Sand

Montag and Mildred read. Montag has no clue what he is reading. Because Sparknotes are no longer available, Montag decides he needs a teacher and calls a man he met in the park long ago. Montag goes back to his books and ponders whether or not his copy of the Bible is the last one in existence. Mildred invites friends over to watch interactive TV. Montag hops on the subway to go to Faber’s, the reader he met at the park.

As he attempts to memorize Bible verses, he is constantly distracted by a toothpaste jingle, gets angry, waves the book, and starts shouting. He arrives at Faber’s, who explains why people are unhappy: they need quality information, time to digest it, and the freedom to act on it.

Montag returns home, turns off the TV, and reads to Mildred’s friends. He then makes fun of them and tells them to go home to their miserable lives. Montag goes to work and hands Beatty the book. Beatty confounds Montag with a litany of literary quotations. The alarm rings and the firefighters head to Montag’s house.

Analysis: If ever you rob a bank and get away with it, don’t buy a mansion and three Ferraris. If ever you live in a society that burns books and you steal one, don’t start waving it at people while yelling. Montag is obviously unable to handle the responsibility thrusted upon him.

Burning Bright

Mildred speeds away in a taxi. Montag’s house is destroyed and Montag is arrested. Beatty taunts Montag with more literary quotes and learns a valuable lesson: never taunt somebody with literary quotes who is holding a flamethrower. After Faber becomes charcoal, Montag is attacked by the mechanical hound, which injects anesthesia into Montag’s leg before being blasted by the flame thrower.

Montag flees, hears that war has been declared, and that he is being pursued by law enforcement and a new mechanical hound. Faber instructs him to follow the railroad tracks to St. Louis.

Montag watches himself being chased. He reaches the railroad tracks and meets a group of intellectuals. The men invite Montag to enjoy the chase on his portable TV. The news shows the pursuers kill a man they identify as Montag. The intellectuals have perfected a way of memorizing books.

As Montag ponders his new life, jets fly over and destroy the city. The intellectuals discuss their plan to reintroduce books when the time is right.

Analysis: Montag is reborn to a more meaningful existence and is compared to a Phoenix, a mythological bird who rises from the ashes.

Additional Reading

A knowledge of The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution will help you contrast the ideals of the founding fathers with Montag’s society and modern society.

This post is part of the series: Fahrenheit 451 Study Guide

You can’t burn this study guide because it’s on the Internet. In your face, Beatty!

  1. A Detailed Summary of Fahrenheit 451
  2. 11 Interesting Quotes from Fahrenheit 451
  3. Challenge Your Fahrenheit 451 Knowledge
  4. Introducing the Main Characters in Fahrenheit 451
  5. Symbols and Themes in Fahrenheit 451