Montag gets up in the morning and decides he does not want to go to work; as a result, he calls in sick. Montag tells Mildred he is thinking about quitting his job, but she does not even respond. Captain Beatty soon shows up on the pretense of checking on how Montag if feeling. In truth, it seems he has learned that Montag possesses at least one book. In a veiled conversation in which he never directly confronts Montag, Beatty reminds him that books are not only illegal, they are also a waste of time. He then tells Montag that many firemen, at one time or another, steal books; however, he states that it is a phase they quickly outgrow.
Beatty then recalls the time when people read entire books. As time passed, all the books were condensed into short digests. Books slowly disappeared, and all anyone read were comic books and sex magazines. Before long, books had entirely vanished. Beatty claims that the government did not make any formal declaration of censorship; rather, advanced technology simply made books useless. Then it was unanimously decided that men should all be alike and equal in intelligence. Since books were loaded guns that could give a person extra knowledge, they were all destroyed. Firemen then became the protectors of the new laws; they were ordered to burn any books that were found and to destroy the home of the criminal that possessed them.
Beatty also talks about the changes in education. The time in school was shortened, and the study of languages and philosophies was dropped. The government felt that people only needed to learn how to press buttons, push switches, and pull levers. Reading was considered to be a distraction that merely got in the way. While Beatty is speaking, Mildred begins to straighten her husband's bed. Montag fearfully remembers the book he took from the old lady's home and hid under his pillow. He stops Mildred from finishing the bed.
Beatty goes on talking. He suggests that Clarisse was killed and her
family was forced to move away because she had begun to think too much
and to question too many things. Montag is horrified at the explanation.
Before he leaves, Beatty makes a final remark. He mentions that once in
a while, a fireman starts wondering about what lies inside the books he
burns; but Beatty emphasizes that nothing of value is found in any book.
Montag bravely asks what happens to a fireman who takes a book home. Beatty,
unfazed, answers that the fireman is given twenty-four hours to burn the
book. If he does not burn it, the firemen will come to his home and do
their duty. After this explanation, Beatty finally leaves.
This important section of the novel gives much explanation. It begins by again presenting the indifference that exists between Montag and Mildred. When he decides to call into work, saying he is sick, she is not worried about her husband's health and even refuses to get him his medicine. When he speaks about quitting his job, she seems oblivious to his discontent. When he shares his recent independent thoughts with her, she is terrified.
Captain Beatty's arrival, though supposedly unexpected, seems planned. It is obvious that he is suspicious of Montag. In order to make him uncomfortable, Beatty gives an elaborate explanation on books and how they became censored. He also explains the changes in education. He ends his lecture by explaining how some firemen become curious about the books that the burn; some even steal some of the books. Montag is brave enough to ask what happens to a fireman who takes a book. Beatty explains he has twenty-four hours to burn the book, or the firemen will come to his house to do their duty.
It is ironic that while Beatty drones on about books and their uselessness, Mildred begins to straighten her husband's bed. Montag is terrified, for he remembers the book that he has taken from the old woman's house and hidden under his pillow. Before he is exposed, he manages to stop his wife; but there is a marvelous moment of suspense carefully created by Bradbury.
Montag is at a crucial juncture in his intellectual development. He
can save his book, continue to think independently, and run the risk of
facing serious consequences; his other option is to surrender his intellectual
hunger and nullify the influence of Clarisse McClellan. As Montag ponders
what he should do, Bradbury again builds suspense.
After Beatty's departure, Mildred urges Montag to return to work. For
the first time, she seems a bit troubled by his peculiar behavior of late.
Montag, however, has no heart for the job anymore. He confesses to Mildred
that he has stolen books, not just one, but twenty or so. He shows her
where he has been hiding them in the grill of the air-conditioning system.
Millie is terrified and moves to throw the books into the incinerator.
Montag stops her by telling her that they are both in trouble together.
He then tries to make her understand that his career is wrong and that
he needs to do the right thing for a change. Suddenly, the mechanical
voice at the front door announces that someone is coming. Montag decides
he will not open the door; instead, he opens a book at random and begins
reading. He later turns off the door alarm so he and Millie will not be
This is a scene of revelation that is really a turning point in the novel, for Montag tells his deepest secret to his wife. He reveals that he has stolen around twenty books, which he hides behind the air conditioning grill. Even the dull Millie understands the seriousness of her husband's offense and immediately moves to burn his books. He, however, is able to stop her. He also tries to explain to her how his job is wrong, but his thinking is right; Millie cannot understand his explanation. The suspense that Bradbury has created in the novel about the unknown is now replaced with suspense about the consequences of Montag's actions.
Like all the citizens in this futuristic society, Mildred has been made lazy by and dependent upon the technological advancements that surround her. She can no longer thinks for herself, just as the government has planned. It is not surprising that she is terrified of punishment and frightened by the prospect of secret knowledge. She accepts the rule that no one should have an individual thought; she certainly never has one herself. Instead, she totally believes in the government as it exists and is terrified of questioning or contradicting it. Ironically, Montag succeeds in keeping her from burning the books by telling her that the two of them are already in this together. Mildred believes him and seems to have no choice but to become his accomplice.
An interesting aspect of Montag's personality is also revealed in this scene. At the old woman's house, Montag was seen unconsciously taking a book; his hand seemed to act of its own accord. Now it is revealed that Montag has stolen many other books; his subconscious has been guiding him toward the self-discovery that Clarisse put in motion. Bradbury seems to be indicating that mankind has an inherent desire to improve his station in life by seeking the truth. Montag's unconscious quest for knowledge is proof of this theme.
At this point, it is important to note the title of Part I, The Hearth and
the Salamander. The hearth obviously refers to the place where a fire
is burned; additionally, it is usually a reference to the place where
a man's heart is - his hearth and home. The salamander refers to the myth
that the creature can live through fire; it is, therefore, a positive
image that suggests that this society can live through the fire it is
undergoing. Since Fahrenheit 451 has as its primary image
the destruction of books (and knowledge) through burning, the title further
suggests that thought and knowledge, like the salamander, will make it
through the fire.