HomeLiterature Study GuidesFahrenheit 451Part 1 Montag Gets Sick And Reads A Book Summary

Fahrenheit 451 | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Part 1 | Montag Gets Sick

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Part 1 | The Hearth and the Salamander (Montag Gets Sick) of Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451.

Fahrenheit 451 | Part 1 (Montag Gets Sick and Reads a Book) : The Hearth and the Salamander | Summary

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Summary

At home Montag hides the book he stole. He watches Mildred sleep and feels as though he doesn't know his wife at all. Later he asks her when and where they first met, but neither of them can remember. He watches her interact with her "family" on the wall screens and recognizes how loud and shallow the program is.

Montag and Mildred go for a drive and then stop to talk. Montag asks whether Mildred remembers Clarisse, the girl he had been talking to, and Mildred tells him she thinks Clarisse is dead, noting that a car ran over the girl and that her family has moved away. Montag thinks he hears something on the lawn, and he is sure it is the Hound.

The next morning, Montag is sick and doesn't go to work. He stays home with Mildred and tries to talk to her about the woman who burned herself and her books. Mildred doesn't care about the woman and thinks it was a good idea to burn the books. They argue about what the burning meant and what being a fireman means.

Captain Beatty comes to visit Montag at home. He tells Montag to take the night off and relates how firemen were redirected from preventing fires to burning books when the culture embraced speed, first as a response to photography and then to electronic media. This need for speed resulted in compressing books and forcing all entertainment to be shallow and action-based: "More cartoons in books. More pictures. The mind drinks less and less." The population, he says, also turned against books because books are "snobbish," with something to offend any minority group. In addition, books represent ideas and intellectuality, which threaten some people, making them feel inferior. Beatty explains that the firemen are there to protect people from such disturbing and offensive emotions. Montag listens to all this and then asks about Clarisse. Beatty explains that she was being monitored.

At the end of his lecture, Beatty shares a key fact: all firemen sometimes get the urge to read books. Authorities consider it a "natural error" and don't do anything so long as the fireman turns the book in within 24 hours.

After Beatty leaves, Montag thinks about Clarisse as Mildred watches her shows. They talk, and Montag admits that he should have shared his decision with her, since it is her house, too. He reveals that he didn't just hide one book; he has about 20 concealed in an air duct. She tries to burn them, but he stops her. He asks her to read the books with him. While they are talking, Captain Beatty comes to the door, but they don't let him in. After he's gone, Montag starts reading one of the books, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Mildred doesn't understand it, but Montag says they can reread it.

Analysis

Montag's response to the woman who burns herself with her books is complex. He goes home and gets into bed. However, he does not talk to Mildred about the event or touch her. It is only when she touches his face that Montag learns he is crying. His dehumanization and isolation are reinforced when neither he nor his wife can remember how they met. The fact that emotion and intimacy are casualties in their society is underscored by Mildred's response to Clarisse's death.

Beatty's visit expands upon some of the novel's most important themes, particularly the power of censorship. Unlike the other firemen, Beatty does not just go along with what he has been told about the history of their profession. Instead Beatty reveals to Montag that he knows the real history of the firemen and has an in-depth knowledge of the inner political workings of the society they serve.

Beatty's explanation of how this world of tyranny came into being is delivered in a breezy monologue, but it is shockingly complex. He makes a connection between increased population, multimedia, the speed brought on by a technological society, and the desire not to offend people, or what today might be called political correctness. However, despite his understanding, Beatty willingly supports this tyrannical, censorship-based society.

Beatty has an ulterior motive for his visit to Montag. He admits that he knows what happened to Montag, because all firemen give in and read a book sometimes. The issue is what the firemen who have done so will do next. He gives Montag a 24-hour countdown to turn in a book. Beatty becomes more frightening as the story develops; he seems to know Montag better than Montag knows himself.

Montag's dissatisfaction with his circumstances continues to grow. He tells Mildred that he now understands why Clarisse frightens men like Beatty: because she and people like her have the ability to make people question society and the terms of their own lives. Montag now questions his role as a fireman, and the smell of kerosene makes him feel sick. In fact, he muses, "maybe it would be best if the firemen themselves were burnt." He has experienced a complete turnaround in his world view.

After Montag deals with Mildred's attempt to burn the books, he pulls both of them into explicit rebellion by reading together. Montag is reading Gulliver's Travels, a classic social satire in which the protagonist's worldview is also turned upside down.

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