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Fahrenheit 451 | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Part 2 | Montag Reads Poetry to Mildred and Friends

Course Hero’s video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Part 2 | The Sieve and the Sand (Montag Reads Poetry to Mildred and Friends) of Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451.

Fahrenheit 451 | Part 2 (Montag Reads Poetry to Mildred/Friends) : The Sieve and the Sand | Summary

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Summary

Montag is home eating dinner when Mildred's friends Mrs. Bowles and Mrs. Phelps arrive. The women are watching television together. The shows are fast-paced, loud, colorful, and frenetic, jumping from one violent, ludicrous scene to the next ("Blue fish ate red and yellow fish. A minute later, three white Cartoon Clowns chopped off each other's limbs."). When Montag interrupts, starting a conversation about the war, Mildred guides the conversation back to favorite shows. Montag returns the conversation to real topics, like their relationship with their children. The women reveal how shallow those relationships are, dismissing their children as nuisances. Montag shifts the conversation to politics, and the women go along, but they are just as superficial as ever.

Montag steps out of the room in frustration and returns with a book. Faber, talking in Montag's ear throughout this entire exchange, tries to get Montag to claim the whole thing was a joke. Mildred comes up with her own excuse, claiming once a year firemen get to take a book home to show how silly books are. Montag goes along with this and at Mildred's request reads aloud a poem, Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach," from one of the books. It makes Mrs. Phelps cry and angers Mrs. Bowles, who claims that books only cause pain: "Not enough hurt in the world, you got to tease people with stuff like that!" Montag forces himself to burn the book, and the women storm out, too upset to stay. Mildred has to take pills in order to sleep.

Analysis

This scene demonstrates both the power and pervasiveness of Montag's culture and the power of great literature.

The power of the culture is evident in the shows Mildred and her friends watch on the television walls and in the women's conversation with Montag. The programs act as stimulants that divorce the watchers from reality, and the conversation shows just how successful the shows are in achieving this goal. Mrs. Phelps claims that while she knows of several suicides, no one dies in wars. When they talk about their children, Mrs. Bowles talks about how she "puts up with them." When Montag tries to talk politics, the women focus on only the shallowest aspects of the candidates, such as their appearance, rather than discussing their ideas.

But when Montag reads poetry to the women, it breaks through their defenses and forces them to feel. As Montag reads, his voice goes "out across the desert," like a Biblical prophet's. Not only does the poem make Mrs. Phelps weep, it enrages Mrs. Bowles, who labels Montag as "nasty" and the poem as "silly awful hurting words." Bradbury shows in this scene that literature isn't a cure-all but a way to make people vulnerable to emotion and compassion.

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