Free Study Guide: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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Clarisse disappears and the old lady burns to death with her books


Montag has grown accustomed to seeing Clarisse in her yard, shaking walnut trees or knitting sweaters. He often goes over to visit with her, and they spend a great deal of time talking. Montag finds he has become quite comfortable in her presence. Clarisse tells Montag that some people find her antisocial, but she tries to be kind and sociable even though people are so different now. She regrets that so many people hurt each other, even shooting and killing one another. Montag finds that he looks forward to the time he spends in conversation with Clarisse. Then one day, she simply disappears without a word or a trace. Montag tries to find her, but to no avail.

One day while Montag is playing cards with his firemen friends, he notices how similar all their faces are. He finds himself staring at them, searching for some differences. Suddenly the alarm sounds, and everyone leaps forward to do his duty. Their destination is the three-story home of an old woman whose has refused to turn in her books. The old woman watches in shock as the firemen surround her home. They then enter the house, throw the books into a pile, and douse them with kerosene. In the process, Montag’s hand seems to automatically close over a book, which he slips under his shirt.

The old woman absolutely refuses to leave her house; she bravely lights a single match and tosses it on the kerosene books. Suddenly her whole home is in flames. She dies a martyr to her cause. Montag is shaken by her actions.


His friendship with Clarisse has had an enormous effect on Montag. Her words always seem to spark off a new trend of thought in his mind. He finds himself questioning his choices and his motivations. Her sudden disappearance upsets his entire being. He is further distraught when he cannot locate her.

The change in Montag’s personality manifests itself in a questioning attitude at work. Captain Beatty and the other firemen are even forced to remind him of the proper functioning of his job. The Mechanical Hound’s obvious dislike for him seems to coincide with the birth of his conscious thought and self-reflection, which are two things the Hound has been programmed to destroy. It is significant that the Captain questions Montag about whether he owns any books or whether he has a guilty conscience.

When the alarm rings, all the firemen leap up to do their duties, except Montag. He moves more slowly, for he now views his job as insane and troubling. When they arrive at the home of an old woman, the firemen find her books and place them in a pile to burn. Somehow, almost unconsciously, Montag finds himself taking one of her books and hiding it under his shirt. The old woman refuses to leave and quotes a famous line from another martyr about the light given off by the fires of free thought. She then sets her books on fire; as her home burns, she perishes. The martyrdom of the old woman has a profound impact on Montag. He is never able to forget the moment.

Montag returns home with the stolen book and finds out Clarisse has been killed


On the trip back to the station, Beatty tells Montag that the old woman’s quote came from Nicholas Ridley in the sixteenth century. He and Hugh Latimer were burned at the stake as heretics.

Returning home, Montag hides the book under his pillow. He feels the distance between him and his wife very acutely. On an impulse, Montag asks Mildred whether she remembers where they had first met; she cannot recall the place or the circumstances. Montag then asks Mildred if she has heard anything about Clarisse. She responds that the girl was run over and killed by a car four days ago. Her family has since moved away.

Shocked at the news, Montag goes outside, where he senses something moving around. He notices a shadow with greenish luminescent smoke around it; he thinks it may be the Mechanical Hound.


This section further builds the tension of the plot. Beatty is again portrayed as a fearful character. The fact that he knows who originally spoke the old woman’s quote reveals that he is a well-read man. It is very disturbing that he has experienced the enlightening power of books and has still dedicated himself to the destruction of them. Additionally, his repeated inferences and questioning looks arouse both Montag’s fear and the reader’s suspicion that something bad is going to happen.

There are several other elements of suspense in this section. Montag begins to feel that he is out of control, changing more than he would like to do. The theft of the old woman’s book was like a compulsion that he had no power to stop; it was as if his hand acted on its own. But once the book was under his shirt, he knew he would keep it. He takes it home and hides it under his pillow. The impact of his actions will be shown later in the novel.

With his changed attitude, Montag feels more than ever before the distance between Mildred and himself, and it pains him. Millie, as always, does not seem bothered by anything. She has not noticed any changes in her husband, nor is she upset by the fact that neither of them can recollect the place where they had first met. When she tells Montag what has happened to Clarisse, he is totally shocked and immensely disturbed over her death. He is also upset that his wife had forgotten to tell him of the accident that had occurred four days ago. Mildred’s indifference towards Montag and Clarisse is painful.

More than ever, Montag needs to feel a closeness to Mildred. He tries to talk to her about his job and then about books. She thinks she is too small-minded to understand Montag’s big ideas. She is fearful that he seems to be thinking in an independent way and tells him to quit talking about such things. She then asks to be left alone. Montag goes outside where he feels the presence of something unnamed. He thinks it may be the Mechanical Hound. The mere suggestion of the beast underscores the subtle and dangerous changes in Montag; it is clear that he now has something real to fear. Montag is thinking and harboring books, two actions that are in clear defiance of the law of the land; the closer Montag gets to knowledge, the more danger he is in.

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