Type of work Science fiction
Setting A city in the future
Guy Montag, a book-burning “fireman”
Mildred, his wife
Captain Beatty, Montag’s supervisor
Faber, an old man – an advocate of book
Returning home from work early one morning, Guy Montag saw a young woman walking toward him. Drawing nearer, he realized that it was his new teenage neighbor, Clarisse, so he stopped and introduced himself. Catching the scent of kerosene on him, she said, “And you must be – the fireman.” Something in her voice troubled Montag. But fireman was a perfectly good profession; both his father and grandfather had been firemen. After all, burning forbidden books and the homes of those who harbored them was a civic service,
“Is it true,” Clarisse asked, “that long ago firemen put fires out instead of going to start them?” No, Guy answered. Then she stared at the “451” stitched on his char-colored sleeve. 451: the temperature at which books burn.
Clarisse was a strange girl, Guy decided. She admitted to rarely watching the 3-D television “parlor walls.” And she asked unexpected questions. “Are you happy?” she shot at Guy as he turned to take his leave.
When he entered his darkened bedroom, Guy sensed something wrong. Then he stumbled over a pill bottle – and realized that Mildred, his wife, had overdosed on sleeping pills. He called for help, then watched as the arriving technicians inserted big snake-like tubes into her body to pump her stomach. The technicians assured him that this was a routine situation, one they handled many times each night.
In the morning Mildred remember nothing that had happened. As usual, her only desire was to sit in the middle of the living room with its three “parlor walls,” seashell earphones plastered to her ears, and live out the painless fantasies of plotless soap operas. It seemed that her only ambition was to be able to afford a fourth parlor wall – then her life would be complete.
As the days passed, Guy often caught glimpses of Clarisse – usually doing something very strange, such as tasting the rain.
At work, meanwhile, the book-burner stayed increasingly clear of the Mechanical Hound. This robot hunter could be calibrated to discern the scent of any person, then chase them down and rip them to shreds. For some reason the hound kept sniffing at the nervous Montag and extending its silver sensor needle. When he complained to Captain Beatty about the harassment, Beatty only laughed.
Then one day while they were playing cards at the firehouse, the firemen heard a squadron of planes flying overhead. They were greatly surprised by the subsequent news report that another war was imminent.
One night a tip came in that books were hidden in the attic of a nearby house. And, sure enough, when the firemen sped to the address and chopped their way into the attic, they found it stacked with books and magazines. While Guy stood by the staircase with the woman whose home they had invaded, his colleagues started to throw books down from the attic. Suddenly Guy had a strange urge. Without thinking, he reached down and picked up one of the books. “His hand had done it all, his hand, with a brain of its own, with a conscience and a curiosity in each trembling finger, had turned thief. Now it pressed the book back under his arm, pressed it tight to a sweating armpit ... with a magician’s flourish!”
Guy was shocked by what he had done. He joined the other firemen as they doused the pile of books with kerosene and prepared to ignite the house. The woman, however, planted herself on the front porch in an astonishing act of defiance, then calmly struck a match and set herself aflame. Along with her belongings, she was soon reduced to ashes.
At home that night, Guy hid the filched book under his pillow. Visions of the woman on the porch of the burning house flooded his head. He tried to talk to Mildred about his uneasiness, but she had long since been conditioned to stay in the safe world of her parlor wall melodramas; she simply was not programmed to face or share real-life sensitivities and feelings. But at one point during the evening she did casually remark that the girl next door – Clarisse – had been run over and killed several days earlier.