Literature Study GuidesFahrenheit 451Part 1 Burning The Old Womans House Summary

Fahrenheit 451 | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Part 1 | Burning the Old Woman's House

Course Hero’s video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Part 1 | The Hearth and the Salamander (Burning the Old Woman's House) of Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451.

Fahrenheit 451 | Part 1 (Burning the Old Woman's House) : The Hearth and the Salamander | Summary

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Summary

A week passes, then another, and then Clarisse mysteriously disappears. Montag is at work, playing cards. In the regimented schedule of the firehouse, "The voice clock mourned out the cold hour of a cold morning of a still colder year." A radio is playing in the background, and an announcer says there may be war. Montag starts talking about a burning from the previous week, asking what happened to the owner of those books. Beatty tells him the man was institutionalized: "Any man's insane who thinks he can fool the government and us."

The talk slides into a discussion of the history and nature of firemen. Montag remembers reading a line from a book of fairy tales by chance at a recent burning. He says nothing about it during the discussion, however. The other firemen pull out books that give the complete (false) history of the profession, as well as its rules. While they are reviewing those rules, the alarm sounds, and they rush to a house in an ancient part of the city.

They throw the books they find at the house into the yard and begin to saturate the books and house with kerosene. Again Montag reads a sentence from one of the books by chance when it drops open. Without thinking, Montag steals one of the books and hides it in his uniform. The woman who owns the house and books refuses to leave as the firemen prepare to burn them. Captain Beatty gives her to the count of 10 to move, but she pulls out a match and lights everything on fire, choosing to die along with her books.

As the men drive back to the firehouse, everyone is quiet until Montag asks Beatty about something the woman had said; he can't quite remember the quotation. Beatty recognizes it, completes it, and explains that it is a quotation from a 16th-century man who was burned alive for heresy.

Analysis

The emotional texture of this dystopia is masterfully presented in this section. Montag has established a bond with Clarisse. He misses her and their routine when she disappears and the warmth she brings to his days. The chilly weather seems to heighten her absence.

Clarisse has clearly influenced Montag. He asks Beatty the question she once asked him regarding the historical job description for firemen who once perhaps put out fires rather than start them. He uses the phrase "once upon a time," which Beatty openly mocks, suggesting that a desire to explore or understand history is absurd. Montag's use of the phrase, however, shows just how much influence books already have on him. "Once upon a time" are of course the opening words of fairy tales, such as those in the book of fairy tales that Montag glanced at by chance.

The scene in which the firemen raid the old woman's home to burn her books is pivotal, raising the question of what can make books worth dying for. The question haunts Montag, who steals the book from the old woman's home and feels it "[pound] like a heart against his chest." The beating heart represents both life and love, suggesting that there is a link between books and the substance of life itself.

Beatty reveals an unusual talent for remembering quotations and their sources. He correctly identifies the source of the woman's last words, which aptly fit the circumstances of her own death. The quotation contrasts the reality of history with the contrived history that the firemen have been taught.

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