Fahrenheit 451

by: Ray Bradbury

Guy Montag

He felt his smile slide away, melt, fold over and down on itself like a tallow skin, like the stuff of a fantastic candle burning too long and now collapsing and now blown out. Darkness. He was not happy. He was not happy. He said the words to himself. He recognized this as the true state of affairs. He wore his happiness like a mask and the girl had run off across the lawn with the mask and there was no way of going to knock on her door and ask for it back.

When Montag first meets Clarisse, she asks him if he is happy. He immediately assumes the answer is yes, but then considers the question with more thought. Prior to this conversation, he felt pleasure while burning books, but he now realizes this is not true happiness. Unlike others in his world, Montag sees how empty his life is.

And I thought about books. And for the first time I realized that a man was behind each one of the books. A man had to think them up. A man had to take a long time to put them down on paper. And I’d never even thought that thought before.

Montag shares a revelation with Mildred the morning after he and the other firemen burn the books along with the woman who owned them. Because of this incident, Montag begins to think about what books mean, and he realizes he has never given much thought to what went into them. This realization demonstrates how ignorance is prized and ideas are discouraged in this society where individuals rarely think for themselves.

Nobody listens any more. I can’t talk to the walls because they’re yelling at me. I can’t talk to my wife; she listens to the walls. I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough, it’ll make sense.

Montag explains to Faber what he is seeking from reading books and discussing them with others. He expresses his frustration with the way technology has taken over their lives: The televisions in the walls do all the talking while the people don’t talk to each other. This lack of human connection contributes to the unhappiness he realizes he’s been feeling, which is why he begins looking for something with greater meaning.

And one day he would look back upon the fool and know the fool. Even now he could feel the start of the long journey, the leave taking, the going away from the self he had been.

Here the narrator reveals Montag’s thoughts after he meets with Faber and confronts Mildred’s friends. Montag has begun to realize that, like Mildred’s friends, he was once a fool who did not think for himself. This moment illustrates the beginning of Montag’s transition. While he has not yet read many books or learned many new things, he understands how foolish it was for him to not even wonder or ask questions about the world.

How like trying to put out fires with water pistols, how senseless and insane. One rage turned in for another. One anger displacing another. When would he stop being entirely mad and be quiet, be very quiet indeed?

Montag tries to read to Mildred’s friend to help them understand what they can learn from books. He compares his attempt to “[putting] out fires with water pistols,” demonstrating how useless it is. While he once focused his anger by burning books, he now feels anger towards anyone who is not interested in books. This emotional shift reveals that a person’s opinion about books will not bring happiness in this world.

He burnt the bedroom walls and the cosmetics chest because he wanted to change everything, the chairs, the tables, and in the dining room the silverware and plastic dishes, everything that showed that he had lived here in this empty house with a strange woman who would forget him tomorrow, who had gone and quite forgotten him already, listening to her Seashell Radio pour in on her and in on her as she rode across town, alone.

Here, Montag is forced by Captain Beatty to burn down his house after Mildred reports his books. Montag takes stock of his former life as he burns it down, showing how easily it can be discarded. He speculates that Mildred has already forgotten him and moved on, demonstrating the superficiality of their marriage, like most of the other marriages in the novel.

This was all he wanted now. Some sign that the immense world would accept him and give him the long time he needed to think all the things that must be thought.

As Montag hides in the river from the Hound, he is finally able to take in the beauty of nature. After coming from a world with constant diversions that do not promote individual ideas, he wants the opportunity to simply be alone with his thoughts without any distractions.