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Free Study Guide: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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FAHRENHEIT 451 BY RAY BRADBURY FREE BOOK SUMMARY

CONFLICT

Protagonist

The protagonist in the novel is Guy Montag, a 24th century fireman who starts fires rather than puts them out. His responsibility to the city is to burn houses that contain books, since books are illegal. Montag begins to question his acceptance of the status quo and learns to be a non-conformist. Various people and events encourage him in his pursuit of truth, including Clarisse McClellan and the old lady who dies in her home. By the end of the novel, Montag is the leader of a revolutionary movement dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge.

Antagonist

The antagonist for Montag and for most of the people in the novel is their society, which is futuristic and dictatorial; thinking for oneself is censored and life has no meaning. It has been mandated that all men should be equally intelligent and informed; therefore, possessing books and seeking meaningful knowledge are criminal acts. Television and sleeping pills are the opiate escapes of nearly everyone. Captain Beatty and the other firemen are the foremost representatives of this oppressive social order. They burn the homes and belongings of all “criminals” who own or read books or defy the law in any other way. They create a Mechanical Hound, which is an emotionless, mechanical killing machine that can be programmed to seek out and destroy free thinkers, hunting them down by their scents; the hound is blind to anything but the destruction for which it is programmed. Of all the firemen, Beatty seems to be the harshest in his pursuit and punishment of criminals, particularly Montag. Perhaps it is because he has read and memorized many books in the past, but now refuses to accept them or act on his suppressed idealism.


Climax

The novel climaxes when Montag and the other firemen are called to burn a home they discover is Montag’s. Millie, Montag’s wife, has betrayed her husband and turned him in as a criminal. Montag confronts Beatty and decides he must be killed in order to save himself and humanity; it is the moment of climax for Montag, for there is now no turning back. Montag bravely fights the Mechanical Hound; although it cripples him, Montag manages to run away.

Outcome

Although the story is a tragedy, it ends with a small ray of hope. Although Montag is driven from society, he manages to escape to the country, where he meets other self-exiled intellectual leaders. All of these men dedicate themselves to the goal of reintroducing books into the society. While Montag is in hiding, war breaks out, and Montag’s city is destroyed. At the end of the book, Montag and the other exiles walk toward the destroyed city with the goal of rebuilding it.


SHORT SUMMARY (Synopsis)

From all outward appearances, Guy Montag is content in his job as a fireman in the 24th century town in which he lives. He has learned to accept that his society is dictatorial, expressly forbidding its citizens from reading or possessing books or seeking any other intellectual self-improvement. Montag has even learned to take pleasure in the flames that shoot from his igniter when he is called to burn the dwelling of the citizens that possess books or commit other crimes against the society. He is successful in distancing himself from the fact that his purpose in life is to destroy other peoples’ property.

The novel opens on a typical day for Montag, the protagonist of the novel; he finishes work and heads toward home. On the way, he runs into his teenage neighbor, Clarisse McClellan, who lives in the house next door to him. In the futuristic world in which she lives, Clarisse is judged to be peculiar, for she is strangely old-fashioned. She is interested in the way flowers smell and how the grass feels under her feet. She is seeing a psychiatrist because of her non-conformist interests. As she talks to Montag, Clarisse challenges him by asking, “Are you happy?” This simple question is Montag’s catalyst for change and causes everything that follows in the novel.

Without eagerness, Montag goes home to Millie, his wife. There is never any affection between them; in fact, they seldom even notice one another. On this particular night, as bombers fly overhead to foreshadow impending war, Montag discovers Millie has taken an overdose, which is a common occurrence in the town. He calmly calls the suicide orderlies, who are always standing by to come to the rescue of those who attempt to kill themselves. With little effort, they save Millie’s life. The distance between Millie and Montag deepens the next day when he tries to talk to her about her actions. She claims not to remember what she has done and returns to her interactive television, totally ignoring him.

Over the next several weeks, Clarisse and Montag develop a friendly relationship. They talk about ideas and thoughts in a way that no one in this society seems to do anymore. Because of Clarisse’s influence, Montag grows more concerned about his own life. Then one day, Clarisse disappears and Montag is troubled. Work troubles him even more, for he must participate in burning an old woman’s home. Refusing to leave her books and her belongings, she lights her own fire and stays inside, dying a martyr. Montag is moved by the woman’s bravery and sees it as a symbol of what is wrong with society. Almost in protest, he steals a book from the woman’s house.

Back at home, Montag learns that Clarisse has been killed; her death upsets him greatly. He tries to talk to his wife about books and ideas and what is wrong with society, but she is not interested. The next day, Montag calls in sick to work, for he has lost all interest in his former life. His boss, Beatty, comes to his home and warns him that sometimes firemen go through phases when they steal books; he reminds Montag if they do not return the books within twenty-four hours, they will be arrested and all their belongings burned. Montag thinks he should get rid of the books he has stolen, including the one from the old woman’s house.

After Beatty leaves, Montag shows the old woman’s book to his wife; he also shows her some twenty others he has apparently stolen over the years. Millie is terrified and refuses to deal with the situation. In frustration, Montag takes one of his books and leaves to visit with Faber, an old English professor he once knew. The two of them devise a plan to save the knowledge from Montag’s books. They decide that Montag must memorize the books to be ensured that their contents are preserved. When Montag goes home, he again frightens his wife by showing her his books; he also shows them to two neighbors. Then he goes to the fire station to turn over one of his books so no one will be suspicious of him. At the fire station, the alarm sounds and Montag must go with Beatty and the other firemen to destroy a house. When they arrive, he realizes it is his own home they are supposed to burn.

At his house, Montag discovers that his own wife has turned him in. In a rage, he kills Beatty and is then attacked by the Hound. He manages to escape and goes to see Faber, seeking help. Faber takes Montag to the country, where some other intellectual exiles are living. Montag becomes part of their group. Like the others, he struggled to memorize books. Their plan is to someday put the knowledge from the books back on paper.

While Montag is in exile, the long-awaited war finally breaks out. The city that Montag has come from is completely destroyed. After the fighting is over, Montag and the others walk back to the city. They are determined to build a new civilization there.


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