Free Study Guide: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Previous Page | Table of Contents | Next Page
Downloadable / Printable Version




Guy Montag

Montag is the protagonist and central character of the novel. Throughout the plot, he steadily grows and changes; by the end of the book, he is a completely different person.

At the start of the novel, Montag is a total conformist who has bought into the totalitarian system in which he lives without thought or question. He is married to Mildred, an insipid woman who spends her days in front of three television sets and lulls herself into sleep at night with music and sleeping pills.

Montag works for the government as a fireman, burning the homes of “criminals” who dare to possess books and setting loose the Mechanical Hound to track down those victims who dare to seek knowledge. Montag actually enjoys his cruel and destructive work and amuses himself by watching the suffering he inflicts. He and his fellow firemen even play masochistic games in which they set small animals loose and send the Mechanical Hound after them, betting on the outcome. Despite the seeming pleasure he receives from his job, Montag is hungry for knowledge. Instead of burning all the books in the houses of the criminals, he has actually stolen some of them and hidden them in his own home. He knows that it is an offense that is punishable by death.

When Montag meets Clarisse, his seventeen-year-old neighbor, he is amazed at her independent thinking and open defiance of convention. She is fresh and exciting, uninterested in the technological trappings of the ultra-modern society. She also challenges Montag when she asks him if he is happy. When faced with this question, Montag acknowledges that his life has no meaning; the more he thinks, the more he is dissatisfied with the vacuum of his life. By the end of Part I, Montag is poised for change, ready for a new, more meaningful existence.

Montag reveals his independent thoughts to his wife, but she is incapable of understanding them. When he shows her one of his books, she is horrified at his bravery. Unable to discuss his ideas at home, Montag, in total frustration, turns to Faber, an old English professor, for friendship and advice. The two of them devise a plan to reintroduce books into society; they will plant their books in the homes of firemen and in the firehouses themselves. When all firemen are destroyed, there will no longer be anyone to burn the books. To keep each other posted on the progress they are making and to boost each other’s spirit, the two men communicate constantly by way of a small two-way radio, invented by Faber and planted in Montag’s ear.

The people around Montag grow increasingly alarmed at his behavior. Beatty grows suspicious that Montag may be stealing and hiding books instead of burning them; he sets the Mechanical Hound of Montag’s trail in order to frighten him into confession. Mildred is extremely concerned about the risk that her husband has placed both of them in. When he dares to show one of the books to her neighbor friends, she is too frightened to continue. In the end, she reports him to the authority. As a result, he, as a fireman, must burn his own home. Amazingly, he takes pleasure in seeing it burn.

Through the implanted radio, Faber warns Montag to run, but his feet seem unable to move. When he looks at Beatty, he knows he must destroy the man if he and his plan are to survive. He fires his igniter at his boss and watches him burn. He then tries to escape from the Mechanical Hound. When he is captured, he fights the Hound bravely and manages to escape after the iron creature has injected poison into his leg. As Montag hobbles away to find Faber, he stops at the home of Mrs. Black, who also reported him to the authorities. He plants some of the stolen books into her kitchen and then rings the alarm. The deed pleases him greatly, for he has gotten his revenge on his accuser and also destroyed his next fireman, for her husband, Mr. Black, works at the firehouse.

Finally arriving at Faber’s house, Montag is told about a group of exiled intellectuals who will give him refuge. Through careful planning and determination, he manages to stay ahead of the new and improved Mechanical Hound, who is trying to hunt him down and destroy him. By jumping into the river and floating downstream, Montag cannot be detected by either the Hound or the helicopters. He finally comes ashore by a forest and finds the exiles within. They welcome Montag into their midst and share their plans of saving books and knowledge with him. Montag is given the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes to memorize.

At the end of the novel, war has begun and a bomb has destroyed Montag’s city. From a distance, the intellectuals watch the flames of destruction and determine they will go back and rebuild a new society, where books and new ideas are not only permitted, but eagerly welcomed. As the novel closes, they are seen walking toward the bombed out ruins to begin their task; the hope of their recreating the city is the one bright spot in the entire novel.

Bradbury uses the symbol of fire to describe much of what is happening to Montag. Like the phoenix that appears often in the novel, Montag’s life is finally purified and reborn by the very fire he has been spewing for years. During the course of the plot, Montag evolves from an apathetic, conformist fireman, the very essence of socially acceptable stagnancy, to a new man filled with strong ideals and beliefs. He has a new purpose in life, to preserve books and the knowledge they contain. At the end of the novel, he hopes for the future and no longer dreads the present.

Mildred Montag

Mildred, normally called Millie in the book, is Montag’s wife and the epitome of conformity. She is a product of the totalitarian system, having allowed her self to be fully shaped by the norms of society. She spends her days in front of three television screens, never having a thought of her own. She falls into a deep sleep each night with the help of sleeping pills and music piped into her ears. Her insipid lifestyle is further reflected in her emaciated body and chemically dyed hair.

Mildred is totally indifferent to her husband, treating him as if he were almost invisible. Although she has time to talk to her female neighbors about their television dream world, she never finds time to converse with Montag. She cannot even remember the time or circumstances of how she met her husband. She is also indifferent about life in general, as proven by the fact that she tries to kill herself, overdosing on sleeping pills. Her life is saved by the suicide orderlies, who are called to her rescue by Montag.

When Montag tells Millie about his stolen books and show them to her, she is horrified at his treachery to the system. He only gains her silence by reminding her that the government will see her as an accomplice. When he tries to talk to her about the content in the books or read some passage to her, she refuses to take part in it. In the end, she finally turns Montag in to the authorities. When they come to burn down the house and send the Mechanical Hound on her husband, she flees the house, never to be seen again in the novel. When Montag has to watch his home burning, he takes great pleasure in seeing the flames destroy Millie’s television parlor, for he feels this room has allowed Millie to live in her meaninglessness, devoid of any thoughts.

As Montag listens to the bombs destroying the city, he thinks of Millie. He imagines her sitting alone staring at a blank television screen that no longer works; all she can see is the sad reflection of her own face before she herself is destroyed. The final irony is that Millie is destroyed by the system she has so willingly supported. Montag wonders if she ever understood what he was trying to accomplish.

Captain Beatty

Captain Beatty is Montag’s boss at the firehouse and his nemesis. Like Montag, Beatty has a curious mind. In the past, it is obvious that he has read a variety of books, for he often quotes from them. But unlike Montag, Beatty is a staunch supporter of the system, never questioning its rules. He reiterates his firm belief that books are evil over and over again. He is also determined that every last book will be destroyed by his firemen.

Beatty is continually a threat to Montag. From almost the beginning of the novel, he seems to suspect there is something different about this fireman; he even sets the Mechanical Hound on Montag, trying to extract a confession from him. When Montag says nothing, Beatty is enraged by his determination. When Montag finally turns one book into him, Beatty is not tricked. He is sure that Montag has many more. As a result, he plans the destruction of Montag. Taking the unsuspecting “criminal” along, Beatty leads the fireman to Montag’s home and forces him to ignite his own dwelling. Then when he discovers the tiny radio in Montag’s ear, he promises that he will find who is attached to the other end and destroy him as well. Fearful for his own life, for Faber’s life, and for the future of their plan, Montag feels he has no choice but to murder Beatty. He turns the igniter on him and watches his boss burn to death. Montag is amazed that he never tried to run away and believes that Beatty was so unhappy with his life that he was ready to die.

Throughout the book, there is something strangely unsettling about Beatty. Although he constantly states that books are evil and directs their burning, he also has a fascination for them, as evidenced in the many allusions and quotes he gives from texts he has read. It is obvious that he is a tortured man himself. Although that fact does not excuse his despicable behavior, it makes him appear as a complicated victim himself, instead of only as a one-dimensional villain. His easy acceptance of his own death by burning at the end of the novel seems to prove that he is ready to end his torment.

Professor Faber

Faber was a professor of English before the new laws supplanted the need for literature teachers. Now living by himself, he passes his time recalling the books he has read in the past and tinkering with new inventions. When Montag is desperately in need of a friend and confidante, he thinks about Faber. He recalls that he once saw the old professor hiding something under his shirt, which obviously was a book. As a result, Montag thinks he may find for himself a helper and teacher in Faber.

When Montag first calls on Faber, the old professor is not interested in admitting him. Then he sees the Bible that Montag is carrying, and he cannot resist, for it has been years since he has read a copy of it. Montag begs Faber to help him understand books and give him advice. Once again, Faber is reluctant, saying it is too dangerous; but then he imagines how pleasant it would be to again discuss ideas with someone. In the end, he agrees to help Montag. They talk about how their society has degenerated from a literate one into one totally dependent on mechanical devices. Faber even implants a tiny two-way radio in Montag’s ear so the two of them can constantly communicate. Faber plans to recite book passages to Montag while he sleeps, certain that this unconscious receipt of knowledge will be retained.

Faber and Montag begin to plan a revolution against the totalitarian system that will allow no reading materials or independent thoughts. They will plant books in the homes of all the firemen and all the firehouses. Then when all the firemen are destroyed for possessing books, there will no longer be anyone available to burn the printed pages. At first, Faber is not interested in Montag’s plan, saying it is ridiculous and dangerous. Then, however, he realizes that it is at least a plan of action and he agrees to help. Faber feels he has been a coward, afraid to fight the system, for too long.

Throughout the rest of the book, Faber is a faithful friend to Montag. Whenever he needs advice or is in trouble, Montag finds that Faber is on the other end of the radio to answer his questions or give him warnings. It is Faber that tells him he must run away after he kills Beatty. And it is Faber who saves Montag’s life by guiding him to the exiled intellectuals that give him protection and hope. The old professor is truly a solid support for Montag and an invaluable teacher in Montag’s quest for truth.

Clarisse McClellan

Clarisse is a total non-conformist and the seventeen-year-old neighbor of Montag. She is refreshingly different, not afraid to be herself. She believes in old-fashioned values, dreams, and aspirations and talks about the beauty in the smell of a flower or in the soft feel of grass. She is also unafraid to express her ideas and challenges Montag by asking him why he is a fireman, burning books. She also wants to know if he is really a happy man. As a result of her probing questions, Montag begins to examine the ethics of his job and the meaning of his life; he realizes that he truly needs a change. As a result, Clarisse is the catalyst that compels Montag forward in his journey of self-realization.

For Montag, Clarisse is everything that Millie is not, for she thinks, she feels, and she enjoys life. It is not surprising that Montag really likes her and enjoys spending time talking to her. He always looks forward to their next visit. As a result, her sudden disappearance from the world disturbs him greatly; and when he finally learns from his wife that Clarisse has been hit by a car and killed, he is greatly grieved. Montag realizes late in the novel that the hit-and-run accident was probably engineered by Beatty.

Previous Page | Table of Contents | Next Page
Downloadable / Printable Version

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: Free BookNotes Summary

Cite this page: Staff. "TheBestNotes on Fahrenheit 451". . <% varLocale = SetLocale(2057) file = Request.ServerVariables("PATH_TRANSLATED") Set fs = CreateObject("Scripting.FileSystemObject") Set f = fs.GetFile(file) LastModified = f.datelastmodified response.write FormatDateTime(LastModified, 1) Set f = Nothing Set fs = Nothing %>