From the first scene in the fire station through burning the old woman on Elm Street
Montag reaches down to touch the Mechanical Hound in the fire station, and it growls at him and threatens him. Montag tells Captain Beatty what happened and suggests that someone may have set the Hound to react to him like that, since it has threatened him twice before. Montag wonders aloud what the Hound thinks about and pities it when Beatty replies that it thinks only what they tell it to think, of hunting and killing and so forth. The other firemen tease Montag about the Hound, and one tells him about a fireman in Seattle who committed suicide by setting a Hound to his own chemical complex. Beatty assures him no one would have done that to Montag and promises to have the Hound checked out. Over the next week, Montag sees Clarisse outside and talks with her every day. She asks him why he never had any children and tells him that she has stopped going to school because it was mindless and routine. On the eighth day, he does not see Clarisse. He starts to turn back to look for her, but his train arrives and he heads for work. At the firehouse, he asks Beatty what happened to the man whose library they burned the week before. Beatty says he was taken to the insane asylum. Montag wonders aloud what it would have been like to have been in the man’s place and almost reveals that he looked at the first line of a book of fairy tales in the library before they burned it.
He asks if firemen ever prevented fires, and two other firemen take out their rule books and show him where it says the Firemen of America were established in 1790 by Benjamin Franklin to burn English-influenced books. Then the alarm sounds, and they head off to a decayed, old house with books hidden in its attic. They push aside an old woman to get to them. A book falls into Montag’s hand, and without thinking he hides it beneath his coat. Even after they spray the books with kerosene, the woman refuses to go. Beatty starts to light the fire anyway, but Montag protests and tries to persuade her to leave. She still refuses, and as soon as Montag exits, she strikes a match herself and the house goes up in flames with her in it. The firemen are strangely quiet as they ride back to the station afterward.
So it was the hand that started it all . . . His hands had been infected, and soon it would be his arm. . . . His hands were ravenous.
The Mechanical Hound continues the paradoxical theme of living but not Living. Like Mildred and the snakelike machine that pumps her stomach, the Hound is simultaneously like and not like a living thing. It is unlike a real dog in that it is made of metal and has eight legs and a needle in its muzzle that extends and administers a lethal dose of anesthetic. The possibility that someone may have purposely set the Hound’s sensors to react hostilely to Montag foreshadows trouble with an enemy in the fire station, as does his interaction with Beatty, who seems to suspect that something is going on with Montag. Montag is conscious of feeling vaguely guilty around Beatty, but he does not know the exact origin of his feeling.
In this section, Montag begins to feel alienated from the other firemen. He realizes suddenly that all the other firemen look exactly like him, with their uniforms, physiques, and grafted-on, sooty smiles. This is simply a physical manifestation of the fact that his society demands that everyone think and act the same. He used to bet with the other firemen on games of releasing animals for the Hound to catch and kill, but now he just lies in his bunk upstairs and listens every night. He begins to question things no other fireman would ever think of, such as why alarms always come in at night, and whether this is simply because fire is prettier then. This explanation makes perfect sense in a society as caught up in superficial aesthetics as Montag’s and is in keeping with the novel’s portrayal of book burning as a kind of ghoulish entertainment. When the firemen find the old woman still in her house at the scene of the burning, Montag shows a capacity for empathy and compassion that is uncommon in his society. First, he feels highly uncomfortable, since he usually only has to deal with the lifeless books, without human emotions getting involved. Then, though the other men also seem uncomfortable and try to compensate for her silently accusing presence with increased activity and talking, Montag tries to convince her to leave, to save her life.
Beatty’s character becomes more complex here as he speaks to the woman. He summarizes his reasons for burning books, saying that none of the books agree with each other and that many are merely subversive lies about people who never actually lived. He compares books—which contain thousands of varying opinions—to the Tower of Babel, the biblical structure that caused the universal human language to be fragmented into thousands of different voices. Beatty recognizes that the comment the old woman made when the firemen arrived was actually a quotation of Hugh Latimer’s words to Nicholas Ridley as the two of them were about to be burned at the stake as heretics in sixteenth-century England. This is the first hint of Beatty’s impressive knowledge of literature.
The question of individual agency arises again when Montag steals the book. He perceives his crime to be automatic and observes that it involved no thought on his part, that his hands committed the crime on their own. Montag’s thoughtless actions here recall Mildred’s unconscious overdose; both actions result from a hidden sense of dissatisfaction that neither Mildred nor Montag consciously acknowledges.