The story starts with a Fireman, Guy Montag, burning books. He loves burning books, he loves everything about it.
One night on his walk home from work he meets a girl. Before he even knows her name, he feels like she is sizing him up.
“He felt she was walking in a circle about him, turning him end for end, shaking him quietly, and emptying his pockets, without once moving herself.”
Her name is Clarisse McClellan, she’s his new neighbor. She’s also a bit weird, she doesn’t fit into the automated society that Guy lives in. She questions whether or not things are what people say things always have been. (Are its true firemen once put fires out?)
This encounter with Clarisse begins gears turning in his head. As he finished his would home, he remembers that Clarisse asked him if he was happy and he realizes he isn’t.
But Montag’s reverie is interrupted; his wife, Mildred, has overdosed on sleeping pills and Guy’s world flies apart at the sight of this.
Two operators from the hospital show up and pump Mildred’s stomach and replace her blood. Montag grows angry at the nonchalance of the operators. They say they get nine or ten of these cases a night, so they have no need to be in any hurry. But another person just OD-ed so they have to go. They leave Montag with a sedated wife.
“Nobody knows anyone. Strangers come and violate you. Strangers come and cut your heart out. Strangers come and take your blood. Good God, who were those men? I never saw them before in my life!”
Montag leaves his house and goes and listens to Clarisse’s house and hears the uncle talking about how society is so replaceable.
“Well after all, this is the age of the disposable tissue. Blow your nose on a person, wad them, flush them away, reach for another, blow wad, flush. Everyone using everyone else’s coattails. How are you supposed to root for the home team when you don’t even have a programme or know the names? For that matter, what colour jerseys are thye wearing as they trot out on to the field?”
The next morning Mildred doesn’t remember anything. Later in the day Guy tells Mildred what she did, and she doesn’t believe him. She goes back to being absorbed by the wall to wall televisions in their house. Mildred asks when they can put in a fourth wall (it’s a third his yearly pay) and he reminds her it’s only been two months since they had the third installed and she doesn’t even remember or care much about this.
He goes out that night and sees Clarisse, they talk, and she accuses him of not being in love with anyone. Guy can’t even remember where he and his wife met or why he became a fireman. He just remembers existing in his life.
Then focus shifts to this mechanical hound sleeping but not sleeping in the firehouse. Montag is looking at the Mechanical Dog. He tells the machine hello. Montag touches the hound and it rears up; he is scared of the poisoned needles of the hounds. He runs from it up the fire pole in the station. He mentions this to his fellow firemen that the hound doesn’t like him, and his Captain Beatty says:
“Come off it. It doesn’t like or dislike. It just ‘functions.’ It’s like a lesson in ballistics. It has a trajectory we decide for it. It follows through. It targets itself, homes itself, and cut off. It’s only copper wire, storage batteries, and electricity.”
Guy says it isn’t the first time the hound has threatened him. Then he asks what it thinks about. And the Captain says that it doesn’t think anything we don’t want it to think.
For a week Montag passes in a routine, sometimes he sees Clarisse sometimes he doesn’t. She asks him questions and stimulates his mind. In one conversation she mentions that at school they think she’s anti-social:
“Social to me means talking about things like this.” She rattled some chestnuts that had fallen off the tree in the front yard. “Or talking about how strange the world is.
Being with people is nice. But I don’t think it’s social to get a bunch of people together and then not let them talk, do you? An hour of TV class, an hour of basketball or baseball or running, another hour of transcription history or painting pictures, and more sports, but do you know, we never ask questions, or at least most don’t; they just run the answers at you, bing, bing, bing, and us stiting there for for more hoursof film-teacher. That’s not social to me at all. It’s a lot of funnels and a lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom, and them telling us it’s wine when it’s not.
They run us so ragged by the end of the day we can’t do anything but go to bed or head for a Fun Park to bully people around, break windopanes in the Window Smasher place or wreck cars in the Car Wrecker place with the big steel ball. Or go out in the cars and race on the streets, trying to see how close you can get to lamp-posts, playing ‘chicken’ and ‘knock hub-caps.’ I guess I’m everything they say I am, all right. I haven’t any friends. That’s supposed to prove I’m abnormal. But everyone I know is either shouting or dancing around like wild or beating up one another. Do you notice how people hurt each other nowaydays?”
“You sound so very old.”
“Sometimes I’m ancient. I’m afraid of children my own age. They kill eachother Did it always used to be that way? My uncle says no. Six of my friends have been shot in the last year alone. Ten of then died in car wrecks. I’m afraid of them and they dpn’t like me because I’m afraid. My uncle says his grandfather remember when children didn’t kill each other. But that was a long time ago when they had things different. They believed in responsibility, my uncle says. Do you know, I’m responsible? I was spanked when I needed it, years ago. And I do all the shopping and house-cleaning by hand.
“But most of all,” she said, “I like to watch people. Sometimes I ride the subway all day and look at them and listen to them. I just want to figure out who they are and what they want and where they’re going. Sometimes I even go to the Fun Parks and ride in the jet cars when they race on the edge of town at midnight and the police don’t care as long as they’re insured. As long as everyone has ten thousand insure everyone’s happy. Sometimes I sneak around and listen in subways. Or I listen at soda fountain, and do you know what?”
“People don’t talk about anything.”
“Oh, they must!” (you can almost hear Montag’s plea, the hope that somewhere people talk about something valuable)
“No, not anything. They name a lot of cars or clothes or swimming-pools mostly and say how swell! But they all say the same things, and nobody says anything different from anyone else. And most of the time in the cafes they have the jukeboxes and the same jokes most of the time, or the musical wall lit and all the colored patterns running up and down, but it’s only color and all abstract. And at the museum, have you ever been? All abstract. That’s all there is now. My uncle says it was different once. A long time back sometimes pictures said things or even showed people.”
Montag runs through his life’s routine and he remains somewhat afraid of the dog. One of the men says that a hound killed a man but that it was a suicide. Then Clarisse is gone, and Montag’s life is empty and gray. Montag asks his colleagues what happened to the man whose books they burned the week before. They took him to an asylum. Montag says that he wasn’t insane. To which Captain Beatty relies that you’re insane if you try to fool the government. Guy asks outload what it would be like if people came into your home and burnt your stuff. Then he asks if it was always like this, firemen burning books.
They firemen laugh and hand him their rulebooks that say that firemen always burned books.
Then the station alarm rings out; it’s a book alert. Time to burn.
And they begin tearing the house apart, but this time is different. Usually the police take away the victim but not this time.
“The police went first, and adhesive taped the victim’s mouth and bandaged him off into their glittering beetle cars, so when you arrived you found an empty house. You weren’t hurting anyone, you were only hurting things. There was nothing to tease your conscience later…You were simply cleaning up. Janitorial Work essentially.”
This woman spoils Guy’s system at work. And then he steals a book.
They’ve kerosene the house and are ready to light it, but the woman won’t get out. She lights a match and ignites the house and her within it.
Later that night he’s at his house, and he has the book. After lying in bed for a while he looks at his wife who is listening to headphones.
He asks her where they met.
And she can’t remember. She thinks it funny, goes and swallows some sleeping pills and falls asleep.
“How do you get so empty? He wondered. Who takes it out of you? “
He thinks about how distant the two of them are and how it’s all the fault of the television walls and the programs and all the electric communication that they barely communicate.
He asks her what happened to Clarise. If she knows. She says that four days ago she got run over by a car and that her family moved. She had forgotten about it that’s why she didn’t tell him. Montag lays in bed and gets the feeling that the mechanical hound is outside his house. The next day Montag doesn’t get out of bed; he and Mildred talk, and she is just an overall terrible caretaker, she makes no concessions for him even when he asks her to. He asks her what if he quits his job. She says that’s stupid, it was just one fire last night, water under the bridge.
“No, not water; fire. You ever seen a burned house? It smoulders for days. Well, this fire’ll last me the rest of my life. God! I’ve been trying to put it out, in my mind, all night. I’m crazy with trying.”
Mildred doesn’t want to be bothered by Guy and so he shuts up because he remembers her lying in the bed, mostly dead.
Then Captain Beatty Shows up at the house.
Beatty assumed he was sick and tells Guy to take the week off.
He explains that this happens to every fire man, he explains how books used to be a thing but then after the Civil War photography got big then movies and tv shows became a thing. And movies and tv shows focused on condensing books and summarizing the stories until you are in this world where classics are just one paragraph blurbs. He talks about how sports are used to occupy time and thought instead of books. Then mentions how books because thye have ideas offend people, minorities, and in a world where everyone can be offended you had to ban one book and then another so you might as well ban them all, and since books are banned, then why not magazines, or comings. No, they can’t have that either.
“There you have it Montag. It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time.”
Then he explained how intellectual people threatened common people. How bullies are threatened by intellectuals and that’s why because the common person is intimidated by knoweldge. That’s why books are so dangerous they can make someone feel insecure and inadequate.
“You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, what do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right? Haven’t you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren’t they? Don’t we keep them moving, don’t we give them fun? That’s all we life for, isn’t it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.”
And then he says that even with things like death, you can rush people off to an incinerator and let people forget about unhappy things like dead.
Then he mentions Clarisse. He talks about how a family upbringing can ruin a system like theirs. That’s why the practically snatch kids from the cradle now. Cram people full of crap so they think that they’re full and so they’ll be complacent.
Beatty leaves. He says he hopes he cleared things up, he says that they, firemen, enforce happiness in the world and that it’s a good thing to be. Guy doesn’t realize how important he is.
But before he leaves, he tells Guy that every fireman takes a book every once in a while, they usually let them keep it a day.
And then he’s gone.
And then Guy shows Mildred some twenty books he’s stolen.
She wants to call the police, but he stops her. He says he needs her help. Beatty said books didn’t have anything in them, let’s see if he was right then we can burn them together.
Then they start to read.
Guy and Mildred read but have no comprehension.
Then they hear jet planes in the sky, and Guy mentions that they’ve won two atomic wars since 1960.
“Is it because we’re having so much fun at home that we’ve forgotten the world? Is it because we’re so rich and the rest of the world’s so poor and we just don’t care if they are? I’ve heard rumors the world is starving, but we’re well-fed. Is it true, the world works hard, and we play?
Maybe the books can get us out of the cave?”
Mildred abandons the effort and goes back to her television life. Guy wonders where he could get someone that will help him understand books. And then he remembers meeting a retired English professor, Faber. He calls him and Faber hangs up thinking it’s a trap.
Montag wonders if he has the last copy of the bible. Millie doesn’t care, so Guy asks her if the television loves her and she doesn’t have an answer. He leaves to find Faber. He tries to shut the world away, but the insane advertisements eat away at him as he rides the subway. He reaches Faber, and he shows him the Bible.
“It’s been a long time. I’m not a religious man. But It’s been a long time.” Faber turned the pages, stopping here and there to read. “It’s as good as I remember. Lord, how they’ve changed it – in our ‘parlors these days. Christ is one of the ‘family’ now. I often wonder if God recognizes His own son at the way we’ve dress him up, or is it dressed him down?”
Guy says he needs to understand the books.
Faber tells him it’s not the books, its what’s in the books. He explains that books can tell cold hard truths and that’s why they were banned, but they also provide time to think in leisure and contemplate life. Faber tells Guy he won’t help him. Unless they could devise this master plan to tear down the entire fireman’s institution by planting books, they he won’t help. And even then, it would be suicide, but Montag must do something. Faber tells him not to worry that society will be flinging itself to pieces soon enough. But Faber doesn’t help him. So, Guy begins to burn the bible as a threat. This breaks the old professor, and he agrees to help. Guy says he needs some way to steel himself from the hypnotic words of Captain Beatty. The Professor gives him a radio transceiver headphone and says that he’ll argue for him.
They briefly hear on the radio that war is coming. Ten million men are mobilized. And as Guy goes home Faber helps him understand books.
Guy Gets home and his wife has friends over. Guy watches the horrible shallowness of these women. One’s husband was called for war and she says if he dies, they’ll be no tears theyre on marriage number 3 each. Guy unplugs the TVs and asks them to talk. And they honestly can do anything but Gossip. And then he goes and gets a book. He reads them some poetry. Mildred makes guy say that every year a fireman is allowed to take one book home and then burn it.
He reads the poem and one of the shallow women start crying.
The other gets angry at the poetry.
And Mildred seeing that these women aren’t happy turns on the tv so they can be happy again, but Montag stops that. HE yells at them calls them fools tells them to go home.
“Go home and think of your first husband divorced and your second husband killed in a het and your third husband blowing his brains out, go home and think of the dozen abortions you’ve had, go home and thin of that and your damn Caesarian sections, too, and your children who hate your guts! Go home and think how it all happened and what did you ever do to stop it? GO home, go home!”
He leaves for the station. Faber rebukes him saying he shouldn’t have done that he was one of them a short time ago.
At the Station Beatty is waiting.
“here comes a very strange beast which in all tongues is called a fool.”
Montag gives him the book he has, he tosses it in the trash.
“Who are a little wise, the best fools be.”
They start playing cards.
“Well, the crisis is past, and all is well, the sheep returns to the fold.”
“World are like leaves and where thye most abound, much fruited of sense beneath is rarely found. “Alexander pope.
And so, beat continues to lecture Guy with quotes. He tells him about this dream where they had a quote off.
But then the alarm rings and it’s a fire.
And the fire is at his house.
Beatty blames Clarisse for this, for Guy falling away from his place in soceity. Mildred runs out of the house with a suitcase and gets into a car.
Beatty monologues about what draws man for fire Faber asks Guy if he can run away and Guy says he can’t run because of the hound.
Guy burns the books and asks Beatty if Mildred turned him in. She did.
Beatty asks him why he did it, and then hits him. Faber’s earpiece came out. Beatty takes it.
Guy points his kerosene and lighter at beauty
There is a tense standoff of a few seconds.
And then he incinerates Beatty.
Montag runs chased by the hound, which stings him with a needle
He burns the dog with the flame thrower, assaults the other firemen and runs, but his leg is badly hurt by the needle of the dog and so he stumbles as best as he can.
He goes back to his house and grabs some books.
And while he is doing this guy realizes that Beatty wanted to die.
“In the middle of the crying Montag knew it for the truth. Beatty had wanted to die. He had just stood there, not really trying to save himself, just stood there, joking, needling thought Montag, and the thought was enough to still he is sobbing and let him pause for air. How strange, strange, to want to die so much the you let a man walk around armed and then instead of shutting up and staying alive, you go on yelling ad people and making fun of them until you get them made and then…
He gets up through the pain and tears and runs.
He thinks of where to go, he wants to go to Faber, but he can’t it would be suicide. So, he thinks maybe of escaping the city. Also, he hears on the radio that war has been declared.
Montag has to cross a high-speed car boulevard to get away. He drops a book and almost is run over.
He originally thinks that the car was the police realizes it wasn’t the police is was just some kids, seeing how close they could get to him and not kill him. He wonders if there were the ones that killed Clarisse,
He then realizes that because he had fallen, he hadn’t been run over because the car would have flipped if they hit him on the ground. It wasn’t mercy it was self-preservation.
He plants a book in a fireman’s house then goes and sees Faber. He gives him money so that he can try to print books again. Faber tells him to run for the river, go across to the old railroad tracks and he’ll find a group of exiles.
Faber show shim on a screen; a new mechanical hound is after him. They share some whiskey and then he leaves.
He runs for the river while the new mechanical hound tracks him. He reaches the river. He strips splashes himself with whiskey, and changes into fibers old clothes that he brought with him. He floats in the river for a while. Then follows railroad tracks. Then he sees a fire. It’s a group of exiles. They know its Montag, they have a viewer. They show him that the government scapegoats the televised chase on some poor fool and then it’s over and everyone forgets about him.
The exiles say that they are learned men, they were teachers, reverends and professors and they hide on the outskirts of society waiting for a chance to rebuild. Granger, their leader says that they know a way to teach a man to recall everything he has read and when the threat of the world is gone, they’ll write books anew. Because they’ll have it in their heads. They think that Montag’s plan may have worked, but they prefer passive resistance better and subtlety. They say there are thousands who have the knoweldge in the outskirts of the world.
Montag asks what he needs to do.
Wait with the rest of the exiles.
All of a sudden, a bomb go off and the city is blown to pieces.
He worries about Mildred, but then admits he isn’t sad. He pities her and he wasted life. But when the bombs come, he does have real concern for her. And the war is over as soon as it began. Then Guy remembers where he and Millie met.
And he remembers something that he read that he wants to tell the exiles.
“And on either side of the river was there a tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of nations.
Yes, thought Montag, that’s the one I’ll save for noon. For noon
When we reach the city.”