Part I: The Hearth and the Salamander

He walked out of the fire station and along the midnight street toward the subway where the silent air-propelled train slid soundlessly down its lubricated flue in the earth and let him out with a great puff of warm air on to the cream-tiled escalator rising to the suburb.  

Whistling, he let the escalator waft him into the still night air. He walked toward the corner, thinking little at all about nothing in particular. Before he reached the corner, however, he slowed as if a wind had sprung up from nowhere, as if someone had called his name.  

The last few nights he had had the most uncertain feelings about the sidewalk just around the corner here, moving in the starlight toward his house. 

After the narrator describes the pleasant feelings that Montag associates with being a fireman and incinerating books, Montag makes his way home in an effortless manner, giving little thought and paying little attention to his actions as he follows his regular routine. The train tunnel is described as a “flue,” a pipe through which smoke moves, suggesting that Montag views everything through the lens of burning and fire. Montag’s whistling shows that his world at the beginning of the story is calm and peaceful, but the ominous feeling he defines at the corner foreshadows his eventual transformation. Around the corner, Montag meets Clarisse, a teenager whose unusual, thoughtful questions lead him to begin examining his life.  

Part II: The Sieve and the Sand

The bombers crossed the sky and crossed the sky over the house, gasping, murmuring, whistling like an immense, invisible fan, circling in emptiness.  

"Jesus God," said Montag. "Every hour so many damn things in the sky! How in hell did those bombers get up there every single second of our lives! Why doesn't someone want to talk about it? We've started and won two atomic wars since 1960. Is it because we're having so much fun at home we've forgotten the world?” 

As Montag continues to read books at the beginning of Part 2, he begins to question the world around him that he had always considered normal. The setting of Fahrenheit 451 is futuristic, and extremely loud and divorced from nature. In this passage, however, Montag’s observation of the bombers and the dialogue that follows reveal that he has not noticed how intrusive the bombers are. This sudden awareness suggests that Montag is opening his mind to what is really going on.  Montag’s questions at the end of this passage tell us that the story is set in some unspecified time after 1960, after two atomic wars, but no one talks about how much the world has changed. The barbed final question of the passage proposes one reason for everyone’s ignorance: society-at-large has become so distracted and isolated by its easy life and simple entertainment that no one recognizes all they have lost. 

Once as a child he had sat upon a yellow dune by the sea in the middle of the blue and hot summer day, trying to fill a sieve with sand, because some cruel cousin had said, "Fill this sieve and you'll get a dime!" And the faster he poured, the faster it sifted through with a hot whispering. . . . 

Now as the vacuum-underground rushed him through the dead cellars of town, jolting him, he remembered the terrible logic of that sieve, and he looked down and saw that he was carrying the Bible open. . . . the silly thought came to him, if you read fast and read all, maybe some of the sand will stay in the sieve.  

As Montag begins to piece together the world’s slow transformation, he remembers a trip to the beach during his childhood. Because most of the story is set in the ultra-tech, futuristic, unnatural city, his remembrance of moments set in nature is a signal of Montag’s change and growth. As he remembers how the world was in the past—a past that most people seem to have forgotten—he is reminded of the lessons he learned from playing in sand. His memory of the beach, and the sand sifting through the sieve juxtaposed with his current mechanical setting motivates him to apply a principle he learned from playing in nature to the dilemma he faces now. The words he wants to remember are much like sand, and his mind is much like a sieve, so all he can do is read as many words as fast as possible and hope that some do not fall through. 

Part III: Burning Bright

Montag was alone in the wilderness.  

A deer. He smelled the heavy musk-like perfume mingled with blood and the gummed exhalation of the animal's breath, all cardamom and moss and ragweed odor in this huge night where the trees ran at him, pulled away, ran, pulled away, to the pulse of the heart behind his eyes.  

There must have been a billion leaves on the land; he waded in them, a dry river smelling of hot cloves and warm dust. And the other smells! There was a smell like a cut potato from all the land, raw and cold and white from having the moon on it most of the night. . . . He stood breathing, and the more he breathed the land in, the more he was filled up with all the details of the land.  

Montag is being chased by the Hound when he gets into the river to try to escape, and when Montag emerges from the river, he is overcome by the intensity of the scents all around him in the wilderness. This overwhelming sense of nature suggests that Montag is far away from the sterility of the city, and also that he is not used to the many strong smells in the natural world. Soon after this experience with nature, he meets the “Book People” who have been following the chase online and have expected him. Since nature is usually a signal for enlightenment and growth in this story, it’s no surprise that the Book People gather in the wilderness. 

The concussion knocked the air across and down the river, turned the men over like dominoes in a line, blew the water in lifting sprays, and blew the dust and made the trees above them mourn with a great wind passing away south. Montag crushed himself down, squeezing himself small, eyes tight. He blinked once. And in that instant saw the city, instead of the bombs, in the air. They had displaced each other. For another of those impossible instants the city stood, rebuilt and unrecognizable, taller than it had ever hoped or strived to be, taller than man had built it, erected at last in gouts of shattered concrete and sparkles of torn metal into a mural hung like a reversed avalanche, a million colours, a million oddities, a door where a window should be, a top for a bottom, a side for a back, and then the city rolled over and fell down dead.  

At the end of the novel, Montag successfully escapes the city and meets up with the Book People in the country by the river. As he speaks to the group, a bomb is dropped on the city, causing the city and the area around it to explode. The force of the explosion extends all the way up the river, knocking everyone down, but from his relatively safe place by the river, Montag sees the entire city, where many of the people he loved still live, explode in a giant conflagration. The narrator describes how Montag “sees” everything about the city turned upside down. As the city “rolled over and fell down dead,” Montag recognizes that the world has fundamentally changed. The city has been destroyed, but civilization hasn’t—because he and the Book People carry it inside themselves.  Now, it is the goal of the Book People, whom Montag is now a part, to spread the words they’ve memorized from books to the people who survived.