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Fahrenheit 451 | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Fahrenheit 451 | Quotes


It's fine work. ... burn 'em to ashes, then burn the ashes. That's our official slogan.

Montag, Part 1 (Montag's Encounter with Clarisse)

Montag speaks these words to Clarisse when they first meet. She asks him about being a fireman, and he explains that this is the firemen's motto. Works by classic American authors are just tasks to be checked off on a list as their works are burned by firemen. But it is not enough to "burn 'em to ashes." The firemen are committed to burning the ashes, too. The firemen's motto promises destruction upon destruction, suggesting that the level of aggression toward books goes beyond merely destroying them.


"I don't know anything anymore," he said, and let a sleep lozenge dissolve on his tongue.

Montag, Part 1 (Mildred Overdoses)

Montag speaks these words to himself before drugging himself in order to sleep. However, these words are a lie, or more accurately a denial. He says this after he's met Clarisse and after Mildred has overdosed, perhaps trying to commit suicide. Montag is starting to realize how unhappy his life is, and this unfamiliar feeling makes him deeply, profoundly uncomfortable.


A book lit, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering.

Narrator, Part 1 (Burning the Old Woman's House)

As Montag and the other firemen search the old woman's house, Montag is bombarded by stacks of falling books. Like many inanimate objects in the novel, the book is equated with a living thing, a white pigeon. Books in the novel provide not only knowledge, but humanity and emotion, the very stuff of life. A bird is symbolic of flight and transcendence. Through books, Montag will find the inspiration to escape and transcend his culture.


"You can stop counting," she said. She opened the fingers of one hand slightly and in the palm of the hand was a single slender object. An ordinary kitchen match.

Old woman, Part 1 (Burning the Old Woman's House)

When the woman reveals the match, she turns the tables on the firemen. Before this moment, they were going to have all the power and pleasure of burning her books without fear of retribution. In revealing the match, she is telling them she'll do the burning, that she's willing to die with her books, and that if they aren't careful, she's likely to burn them, too.


She's nothing to me; she shouldn't have had books. It was her responsibility ... I hate her.

Mildred, Part 1 (Burning the Old Woman's House)

After the firemen burn a house full of books and the woman who owns them, Montag shares this painful event with his wife, Mildred. He's moved by the event (burning the books and burning the woman). Mildred, on the other hand, feels no empathy whatsoever, first declaring that the woman is "nothing" to her, then deciding that she hates her. Mildred reflects the view of her society: the woman brought her problems on herself by breaking the law and deserves no empathy.


Those who don't build must burn. It's as old as history and juvenile delinquents.

Faber, Part 2 (Montag Talks with Faber)

Faber says this to Montag late in their long talk about what to do to change society. Here Faber is drawing a clear and absolute distinction between two types of people and two courses of action: those who build and those who destroy. The profound situational irony in the novel is that it is the people in power who destroy with government approval, while rebels such as Montag fight for their right to read books in order to rebuild their society.


Old Montag wanted to fly near the sun and now that he's burnt his damn wings, he wonders why.

Beatty, Part 3 (Montag Burns His House)

Beatty, Montag, and the other firemen have responded to an alarm and gone to Montag's house. This line refers to the Greek myth of Icarus. Icarus and his father, Daedalus, are trapped in the labyrinth of King Minos. Daedalus makes wings for both of them from wax and feathers so they can escape, but Daedalus warns Icarus not to fly too high, because the sun will melt his wings. The myth serves as a standard reference against arrogance or going too far. In this case Beatty suggests Montag is Icarus and reading is his attempt to fly too high. It is also a warning to Montag. If you fly too high, you will burn and die.


What is it about fire that's so lovely? No matter what age we are, what draws us to it?

Beatty, Part 3 (Montag Burns His House)

Beatty says this to Montag when they're about to burn his books—and his house. It's another line that shows the complexity of Beatty's character. This is an intelligent, almost poetic reflection on the nature of fire. Beatty seems to have both the kind of mind his society needs and the familiarity with books Montag wants to develop. However, Beatty makes his comments on the beauty of fire just before he uses it as an instrument of destruction against Montag. The situational irony is profound.


Beatty flopped over and over and over, and at last twisted in on himself like a charred wax doll and lay silent.

Narrator, Part 3 (Montag Burns His House)

This is the description of the moment Montag burns his boss, Captain Beatty, alive. When Beatty tells Montag he'll be able to trace Faber due to the audio capsule he has found, Montag snaps. He kills his boss in a horrific, painful fashion with what Beatty seems to admire most in the world, fire. Fire also represents Beatty's authority over others and his allegiance to the state. His burning is a startling reversal that reduces a powerful, loquacious man to a silent, charred doll.


Once, long ago, Clarisse had walked here, where he was walking now.

Narrator, Part 3 (Montag Joins the Outcasts)

This line refers to something Montag feels intuitively: when he walks on the railroad tracks, he's walking somewhere Clarisse walked before him. There is no way for him to know this for sure. Instead, this intuition is symbolic. In learning to think for himself, Montag is following a path Clarisse walked first.


Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said ... See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

Granger, Part 3 (Civilization Is Bombed)

Late in Fahrenheit 451, after Montag joins the group of men who have memorized books, he and the group leader, Granger, are talking. At one point, Granger tells about his grandfather, whose outlook on life could serve as the moral of the novel, a series of lessons on how to live fully and joyfully. This contrasts with the deliberate ignorance and dehumanization of the society Montag has fled, where empty television plot lines and fast-moving cars take the place of curiosity about the world.


Yes, thought Montag, that's the one I'll save for noon. For noon ... When we reach the city.

Montag, Part 3 (Civilization Is Bombed)

These are final lines of Fahrenheit 451. They are Montag's thoughts after he's had lines from Revelations, the final book of the Christian Bible, running through his head. He has been considering memorizing passages from Ecclesiastes, looking for wisdom and appropriate commentary, but settles instead on Revelations and a verse about healing nations. This comments on his and the book lovers' desire to heal their nation, culture, and world.

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