Part 1 - The Hearth and the Salamander
Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns.
“If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.” - Juan Ram'n Jim'nez.
“It was a pleasure to burn.”
This book is set in the 24th Century and the main character is Guy Montag who is a fireman aged thirty. His job is to round up books held illicitly, and ensure they are destroyed by fire. This is done in order to maintain social order. It is, in fact, official censorship.
Montag enjoyed his work.
It was a pleasure to burn, for the burning of books is good.
Books are bad in that they contain conflicting information or tell stories
that are totally fictional. They give people unnecessary stimulation that can give rise to conflict.
After finishing his shift Montag looks at himself in the mirror.
He looks like a minstrel with his blackened face, which he has received from hard work burning books.
On his way home, he encounters one of his new neighbors, Clarisse McClennan,
a lively and curious girl who is very much unlike her contemporaries. She is aged seventeen and is regarded as antisocial by her schoolmates.
She strikes up a conversation with Montag who is intrigued by this girls individuality. She passes comment about Montag’s smell of kerosene. He regards it as a perfume, as it is a symbol of his work. She asks him whether he reads any of the books that he burns, and he responds, “That’s against the law!” She asks another pointed question, “Is it true that long ago firemen used to put out fires instead of starting them, and that they used to save peoples lives instead of destroying their work?” Montag isn’t sure. He responds that houses have always been fireproof (all buildings have a fire resistant covering on them).
She goes on to say that people drive their cars far too quickly and they
don’t have time to see anything in detail.
She says, “I’ve lots of time for crazy thoughts, I guess. Have you seen the 200-hundred-foot-long billboards out in the country beyond town? Did you know that once billboards were only 20 feet long? But cars started rushing by so quickly they had to stretch the advertising out so it would last.”
She adds that she comes from a peculiar family and that her uncle was
arrested for being a pedestrian.
Montag entered his home, but he had a lasting impression of this almost
charismatic girl with her unique way of thinking. It becomes a regular meeting between Montag and the young girl, her vitality is infectious, and Montag starts to come under her spell.
She has aroused his curiosity and he starts to question his life, and everybody else’s.
Montag’s wife Mildred (Millie) spends her time watching her TV screens,
taking part in the interactive plays for which she sends off for scripts, and sleeping and eating.
One night when Montag comes home, she is already lying on her bed with little seashells (headphones) in her ears. These are thimble radios that provide “an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk '' coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind.” On this occasion this unsleeping mind has lost track of the sleeping tablets, and she has taken the whole bottle, deliberately, or by accident - it is not clear.
Montag requests help and two technicians call and they pump her stomach and
provide her with fresh blood, and in the morning Millie is totally unaware of what has happened. The operators that call make it clear that this is a regular occurrence. Montag thinks it is a pity that
the technicians couldn’t have provided his wife with a fresh brain and memory as well as blood.
He decides to confront Millie concerning the pills, but she cannot believe
that she has taken so many. He suddenly realizes that he is not happy, and neither is his wife. She is addicted to her tranquilizers and sleeping pills.
Clarisse continues to share new experiences with Montag, like drinking rain,
and using dandelions to indicate if someone is in love by rubbing these on their chin. Because of her antisocial behavior, Clarisse has to attend a psychiatrist regularly. She doesn’t think she is
antisocial because she likes communicating with people and asking questions, but at school you are supposed to sit and listen to the answers, and to her this is antisocial, for there is no dialogue, as the
information is given out one way and must be accepted.
Montag realizes that his marriage is in tatters.
He cant even remember when and where he met his wife, and neither can she. They have no children of their own, and Millie is absorbed with her family that appears on her three-wall TV She has television relatives. The problem is that nothing really significant happens in these programs. In her more lucid moments, Millie will take her car and drive around at high speed.
Montag comes to the realization that both their lives are meaningless and
He arrives for another shift of work at the Fire Depot, and has a further
unsettling incident with the Mechanical Hound.
It “slept but did not sleep, lived but did not live, in its gently humming, gently vibrating, softly illuminated kennel, back in a dark corner of the firehouse.” The men would capture rats or sometimes a chicken or a cat and release these for the Mechanical Hound to hunt and kill on its 8 spidered legs, and using a 4” hollow steel needle, which came from out of its nose to inject the animal.
Montag decides to complain to his Captain that the Mechanical Hound has been
growling at him. The Captain responds by saying that it cannot dislike him, “its only copper wire, storage batteries and electricity.”
Montag continues with his complaint and the Captain agrees that the hound
will be checked by technicians. Montag wonders if the hound has the ability to think, through the long hours of inactivity. The Captain responds, “It doesn’t think anything we don’t want it to think ''
all we put into it is hunting and finding and killing.”
The men are called out to the ancient part of the city in response to a
Apparently an old woman has an attic full of books. When the crew arrive, they are surprised to see the old woman still present. Normally the people have been removed by the police, and all the firemen have to do is burn the books. They have no conscience about doing this because they are just ‘things’ that they are burning. The men ignore the old lady, and they rush up to the attic and start hurling the books down the open trap, and cover them in kerosene. Montag seems to be the only one concerned about the old lady. She says to him, “Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” Unknown to Montag, the woman is indicating that she wishes to die a martyr, rather than live without her books.
The whole house is saturated in kerosene and the men are evacuating before
the blaze starts. Montag is the only one to try and persuade the old lady to leave, but she surprises them all, for she has a match in her hand, and she ignites the fire herself.
While no-one was watching, Montag hid a book in his coat. He feels
sick at the work he has to do, and returns home in a depressed state, and there is no Clarisse to lighten his mood. In fact he has not seen her for a few days now. He asks his wife whether she has seen
the neighbors and then she recalls that she received a message that Clarisse was run down by a car, and the rest of the family had moved.
Montag ‘phones in sick to his work as he doesn’t feel up to burning more
His Captain, called Beatty, calls to see him in order to give him a pep talk. He is concerned about Montag following their conversation the day before. Sensing that Montag is questioning the reasons behind the burning of books, he reminds him that books are “merely stories - fictions, lies - about non existent people. Books are figments of the imagination.” Their aim is to rid the world of controversy - to end disputes - to make people the same, and for them to be happy all the time. Fire is the force of good, cleansing society.
During this pep talk, Montag is extremely uncomfortable, for underneath his
pillow is the book that he stole from the fire. His wife is busy fussing around during this conversation, and she discovers the book, but doesn’t reveal it to Captain Beatty.
The astute Captain says that sooner or later in a fireman’s career, he is tempted to steal a book and see what in fact he is destroying. When this happens, the fireman is usually given a book for 24 hours, and then it is burnt.
When Beatty leaves, Montag confesses to Millie that he has a small library
of around 20 books hidden in the air-conditioning system.
He brings them out for her to see, but unknown to both of them, the Mechanical Hound is already on the prowl for it seems to know Montag’s mind better than he does himself.
With the books strewn all over the floor “the front door voice called
slowly, ‘Mrs. Montag, someone here’”. The Montag’s are panic-stricken. Is it Beatty returned? They decide not to answer.