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. His hands were tired, the sand was boiling, the sieve was empty. Seated there in the midst of July, without a sound, he felt the tears move down his cheeks.
As Montag rides the subway on his way to see Faber, he recalls a trick that his cousin played on him by trying to get him to fill a sieve with sand, knowing that the sand would fall through the open spaces. As a child, Montag could see that no matter how hard he tried, no matter how fast he worked, the sieve wouldn’t fill with sand, and yet he kept trying. Montag’s childhood memory symbolizes his present situation: Despite his efforts, Montag feels that same frustration when trying to understand the truths of life.
There were people in the suction train but he held the book in his hands and the silly thought came to him, if you read fast and read all, maybe some of the sand will stay in the sieve. But he read and the words fell through, and he thought, in a few hours, there will be Beatty, and here will be me handing this over, so no phrase must escape me, each line must be memorized.
While riding on the subway, reading a book, Montag tries his best to memorize every line of the text. He knows the book will be confiscated at some point, so he tries to read and memorize as quickly as possible. However, as he learned as a child when trying to fill the sieve with sand, the more quickly he “pours” the information into his brain, the more quickly it passes through. The image of the sand falling through the sieve symbolizes Montag’s fruitless efforts to retain what he’s reading.
[“]Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget.[”]
Here, Faber explains to Montag that the physical books themselves are not as important as the information they contain. Just as the sand will always sift out through the sieve, the human mind will always forget certain particles of information, no matter how hard it tries to remember. Books symbolize the remedy to stopping up the holes in the brain’s sieve as they ensure that information is held and always available for reference, never to be forgotten.
[“]Number one, as I said, quality of information. Number two: leisure to digest it.[”]
As Faber explains to Montag the three things that people need in order to be happy, he lists the first as “quality of information”—a detail readers could infer to mean that the information from books is of better quality than that relayed in the programs watched on parlor walls—and the second as leisure to digest the information they take in. Rather than try to consume the information as quickly as possible as Montag does on the subway, Faber believes people should take time to think about what they read and try to understand it, even challenge it, rather than simply accept it as the complete truth. Just as a sieve can’t be filled with sand no matter how quickly it is poured in, information can’t be processed by simply reading it and moving on.
He tried to piece it all together, to go back to the normal pattern of life a few short days ago before the sieve and the sand, Denham’s Dentifrice, moth voices, fireflies, the alarms and excursions, too much for a few short days, too much, indeed, for a lifetime.
As Montag runs from the Mechanical Hound after killing Beatty, he wishes he could return to his life from just a few days ago, connecting the change in his life to the analogy of the sieve and the sand. That moment on the subway, when Montag remembered the incident from his childhood and related it to trying to capture an intangible truth, is when he realized he could no longer exist in the world as it was. He knew he could not be happy around ignorant people such as Mildred when he longed to learn more about the world.