So it was the hand that started it all . . . His hands had been infected, and soon it would be his arms . . . His hands were ravenous.
This passage from “The Hearth and the Salamander” refers to Montag’s theft of books from the old woman’s house. Montag guiltily portrays his actions as an involuntary bodily reflex. He describes his crime as automatic and claims it involves no thought on his part. He blames his hands for several other crimes in the course of the book, and they become a powerful symbol for Montag’s instincts of rebellion, will, and moral imperative. Montag’s thoughtless actions here are akin to Mildred’s unconscious overdose, as they are the result of some hidden sense of dissatisfaction within him that he does not consciously acknowledge.
Montag regards his hands as infected from stealing the book and describes how the “poison works its way into the rest of his body.” Montag uses the word “poison” to refer to his strong sense of guilt and wrongdoing. Later, the novel incorporates a reference to Shakespeare, as Montag compulsively washes his hands at the fire station in an attempt to cleanse his guilt. His feeling they are “gloved in blood” is a clear reference to Lady Macbeth. Montag’s hands function as a symbol of defiance and thirst for truth.