Set in the twenty-fourth century, Fahrenheit 451 introduces the reader to a new world in which the power and control of the masses by the media, censorship, and overpopulation has taken over the general population. The individual is not accepted, and the intellectual is considered a criminal. Television has managed to replace the common perception of family. The fireman profession turned into a flamethrower, a destroyer of books rather than an insurance against fire. Books are considered evil because they make people think and question. People live in a world without any appreciation of the past, where the population receives the present from television.
An author introduces this new world through the protagonist character Guy Montag, during a short time in his life.
The opening of a story
The story starts with an inciting event in which Montag meets Clarisse McClellan. Montag is a fireman who destroys books for a living. One day he was walking home from work when the young Clarisse approaches him and introduces herself. Clarisse is the antithesis of anyone Montag has ever met. She is pretty, young, and energetic, but more importantly, she starts the conversation with him about things that he has never considered. Her inquisitive nature fascinates him because she ponders things such as love, happiness, and, more importantly, the contents of the books that he burns.
At first, Montag tries to ignore her questions, but during the rest of his walk home, he cannot get the girl out of his mind. However, once he entered his home, her image quickly erased. Montag enters his bedroom to find an empty bottle of sleeping pills lying on the floor next to his bed. He discovers that his wife Mildred (Millie), whether unintentionally or intentionally, has overdosed on the tablets. He calls the emergency squad, and the strangers come with their machine to save his wife.
The next morning, Montag tries to discuss what happened the night before, but his wife showed no interest in any type of discussion. She avoids Montag’s questions and focuses on the new script she has received for an interactive television program. Montag, though frustrated and confused about what happened the previous night, heads off to work.
On his way to work, Montag repeatedly meets Clarisse and is left pondering things like the taste of rain and what dandelions represent.
He enters the fire station and immediately encounters the Mechanical Hound, who growls at him. After this brief encounter, Montag realizes that the Hound doesn’t like him, a point that he quickly points out to his fellow fireman, Captain Beatty.
Several days pass since Montag’s last meeting with Clarisse. During one of his final conversations with Clarisse, Guy learns that she fears the violence in her peers. The girl points out that their world used to be entirely different, where pictures showed actual people, and people talked about important things.
The turning point
One day at the fire station, the firemen receive a call that informed them about an older woman who has stashed books in her house. The firemen rush to her home and start destroying the contraband. The firemen urge the woman to leave the house because the entire home will be destroyed, but she refuses to leave her precious books. The home, along with the older woman and her books, is set aflame, but not before Montag steals one of the books.
Later the same night, Montag attempts to discuss his day with Millie, but she is not interested in what he has to say. During their conversation, Montag discovers from Millie that Clarisse was killed in an automobile accident.
Montag decides not to attend work the next day, but he is surprised by a visit from Beatty. Somehow, Beatty knows that Montag is keeping a book, and he is interested in reading it. Beatty converses at great length with Montag and tells him that every firefighter gets the desire to read a book at some point in his career. Beatty also tells Montag that even though he may keep the book for twenty-four hours, he must return to work, with a book in hand so that the book can be destroyed.
After this meeting, Montag shows Millie that he has been hiding, not just one book, but a cache of books in the house for some time. He then convinces Millie to sit and read the books with him. While reading, Montag tries to discuss with Millie the content of the books but finds that she cannot perceive, nor does she want to understand what they are reading.
At this point, Montag remembers an old, retired English professor, Faber, whom he had once met in a park. Montag decides to visit Faber to gain more knowledge of books and his recurrent thoughts.
Upon reaching Faber’s house, Montag is first greeted by the older man with fear. Faber worries that Montag has come to burn his books together with home, but he is quickly pacified when he sees Montag’s Bible and hears that Montag wants to talk with him. During their conversation, Faber agrees to teach Montag, and he gives Montag a seashell radio so they can interact with one another.
Montag returns home to find Mrs. Bowles and Mrs. Phelps, two of Millie’s friends, at his home. Feeling exceptionally courageous, Montag decides to enlighten them by reading “Dover Beach,” but instead, he causes problems for himself because he scares the women. They flee the house in tears, and Millie is angry with him for causing the scene.
With Faber still speaking in his ear, Montag returns to work and gives Beatty a book, which is promptly incinerated. After a lengthy conversation with Beatty, an alarm comes into the station, and the firemen rush to destroy the next house. When the firemen stop in front of the unfortunate house, Montag is surprised to see his own home.
Immediately, Beatty orders Montag to destroy his house and places him under arrest. Montag takes a perverse pleasure in destroying the house, especially the television, and in the following moments, he also kills Beatty with his flamethrower. The Mechanical Hound attacks Guy before he can escape, but he destroys it with fire before the Hound can destroy him.
Montag decides to run to Faber’s home for protection but suddenly realizes that he is endangering Faber. Therefore, he stops at the home of Black, a fellow fireman, and hides the books inside the house to incriminate him. Montag then reaches Faber’s place, and Faber tells him to escape down the river because another Mechanical Hound is on the search for him.
After helping, Faber gets rid of traces of Montag, who races toward the river in hopes of escaping the search. By the time the Mechanical Hound reaches the river, Montag’s trail is lost. He safely floats down the river toward a group of criminals and social outcasts like himself.
Montag leaves the river and immediately finds the group that he heard about from Faber. He meets the unacknowledged leader of the group, Granger, who welcomes Montag to join them. Although thinking that the search was called off, Montag finds out that it was just rerouted. He watches on television as an innocent man, strolling along the city streets, is purposefully identified as Montag, and is killed for the entire television audience to see.
The group decides to move on from their current location, and while they are walking, Granger explains the purpose of the outlaw group. They are preserving books by memorizing their contents and then destroying them. Books can not be forgotten because every person in the group represents a living version of them. Montag becomes the Book of Ecclesiastes from the Bible.
As the men continue in their journey, Granger and Montag watch as bombs fall upon the city and destroy everything in their path. The final war has started. Even though men are escaping the city, they decide to return to the town with Montag in the lead.