Part II: The Sieve and the Sand
Montag spends the rest of the rainy afternoon uneasily reading through books while Millie sits idly. As he reads, Montag is often reminded of Clarisse. Meanwhile, the already edgy couple is alarmed by a scratching at the door. Millie dismisses it as "just a dog", but Montag knows it is the Mechanical Hound. Luckily, the Hound leaves without causing a disturbance. Millie whines that there is no reason to read books and that that their house will be burned down if anyone finds out. Montag responds with a passionate rant, asserting that they really have no concept of what is going on in the world and that those who seek to learn are quickly quieted, just like Clarisse and the old woman. He talks of the ongoing wars and how people all over the world are toiling and starving while they live well and devote themselves to leisure. Montag is interrupted by the ringing phone. Millie answers it and is immediately enraptured in a conversation about a mindless television program.
As Millie chats, Montag wonders what his next step will be. He recalls an encounter with an elderly man in a park a year earlier. The man was a former English Professor (all the liberal arts colleges had been closed some 40 years) named Faber. It was obvious to Montag that the old man had a book tucked in his coat, but the fireman did nothing about it. Faber's words echoed in his head, "I don't talk of things, sir, I talk of the meaning of things. I sit here and know I'm alive." Montag remembers he took down Faber's contact information, and retrieves it from his files. He uses another phone to call Faber, who is shocked to hear from him. Montag questions Faber about how many copies of the book he stole from the old woman are left in the country. Faber tells him there are no other copies of the book and nervously hangs up on him.
When Millie and Montag finish their respective phone conversations, Millie has forgotten about the books in anticipation of her friends visiting to watch some television, while Montag's anxiety about the books has grown. As Montag deliberates on which of his books to hand over to Beatty, he wonders if Beatty might know of a specific title he possesses. Millie entreats him to get rid of all the books. Later, as he leaves to see Faber about getting a copy of the Bible made before he turns the original over to Beatty, he questions Millie about her beloved television characters, asking her if they love her, which they obviously cannot. She is befuddled by his questions, while he is saddened that she is so out of touch with reality.
Montag gets on the subway, heading for Faber's apartment. On the way, he realizes how numb to the world he has become and wonders if he'll ever regain his sense of purpose. He recalls the frustration he felt as a child when he attempted the impossible task of filling a sieve with sand. He resolves to read and memorize the Bible he carries with him before he must return it to Beatty, but finds himself unable to retain any of what he reads, just as a sieve is unable to retain sand. He becomes increasingly frustrated as his attempts at concentration are foiled by the toothpaste jingle that is incessantly playing over the subway speakers.
When Montag arrives at Faber's, the nervous old man is at first hesitant, but allows Montag in after ascertaining that he is alone. Montag tells the old professor that he is the only one who can help him now as Faber eagerly peruses the Bible. He muses about the portrayal of Christ on television and recalls that "there were a lot of lovely books once, before we let them go." Faber professes himself to be a coward for not having stood up in protest back when they were beginning to ban books. Montag asks Faber to help him understand his books, lamenting that society is missing something fundamental that allowed people to experience true happiness. Faber explains getting rid of books is not entirely to blame for society's superficiality. Rather, it is the quality of introspection, mystery and wonder found in books that society lacks. Faber asserts that books are feared because they "show the pores in the face of life" and make people uncomfortable. What the world needs, according to Faber, is quality of information like that found in books, the leisure to analyze and understand it, and the right to act on that understanding.
Montag and Faber hatch a plan to bring down the oppressive system by planting books in the homes of firemen throughout the country and calling in alarms, to shake the people's faith in the men they both fear and revere for "protecting" the nation from the dangers of books. However, Faber retreats from idea, saying people are having too much fun to care about the issue. Instead, he suggests they should wait for the impending war to implode society so that they may start anew. The old man is obviously frustrated, disheartened by the state of affairs and feels helpless to do anything about it. Montag, in an attempt to elicit the passion obviously burning somewhere within Faber, begins tearing pages from the Bible. Faber pleads with him to stop and finally agrees to enlist an old friend to print copies of books for them. Montag worries that when he returns to the firehouse Captain Beatty will, with his powerful rhetoric, convince him that burning books is a noble public service. Faber gives Montag a small, green, bullet-shaped two-way radio of his own invention, similar to the seashell radios Millie is so fond of. They plan to communicate through the radio, and thus, from the safety of his own home, Faber will hear all Montag does and provide suggestions for how to act.
Montag returns home and is eating alone in the kitchen when Mildred's friends, Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Bowles, arrive to watch television with Millie. Montag, disturbed by the women's mindless pleasantries and lack of awareness of the world around them, unplugs the television walls and tries to engage the women in a discussion about the impending war. Mrs. Phelps is unconcerned about her third husband, who has gone to fight, and the women quickly turn the conversation to a recent television program. Montag persists, questioning the women about their children. Mrs. Phelps has none, and Mrs. Bowles has two, for whom she obviously feels no affinity. The conversation turns to politics, and Montag is disgusted to hear the women talk of how they voted for the current president because he was the more handsome of the two candidates. Montag then retrieves a book of poetry, the presence of which a shocked Millie explains by saying that every fireman is allowed to bring home one book a year to see how silly they are. At Faber's prompting, Montag agrees that this is true, and proceeds to read a poem, Dover Beach, to the three uncomfortable women. When he is finished, Mrs. Phelps is crying, though she cannot explain why, and Mrs. Bowles is angry with Montag for bringing about trouble. Mildred tries to calm the group, but the women are quite shaken and leave. Montag criticizes them as they go, telling them to think about the quality of their lives. Mildred goes to the bathroom to take some sleeping pills and Montag removes the radio from his ear as Faber begs him to stop, sure that he has gotten himself in trouble.
Before Montag leaves for work, he retrieves his books from behind the refrigerator and notices some are missing. He realizes Millie must have begun putting them in the incinerator. He hides the remaining books in the backyard and goes on his way. He returns the radio to his ear and Faber advises him to act normally and stay relaxed when he gets to the firehouse. Montag is nervous when he arrives at work. The Mechanical Hound is gone; Montag wordlessly turns over a book to Beatty and sits down to play cards with him and the other men. Beatty begins to prod at Montag by disparaging books and quoting from literature. Faber continually advises Montag to keep quiet, which he does with some difficulty. An alarm comes in, and they go to answer it. When they arrive at the location, Montag looks up to discover they have been called to his own home.
In 'The Sieve and the Sand', we witness Montag's continued awareness of transition. The title of this section provides a metaphor for Montag's frustration at not being able to immediately grasp what is true in the world. Through Montag's own recollection on the train, the reader sees Montag as a young boy, desperately trying to fill a sieve with sand, an impossible task. Likewise, Montag is frustrated to find himself a sieve of sorts, unable to retain what he reads from the Bible, however feverishly he tries. On a larger scale, it becomes apparent that it is not only the words of the Bible, but truth in general that Montag finds difficult to attain. Thus, he is frustrated that he cannot fill himself or feel whole. In contrast, Millie and others like her are sieves as well, unable and unwilling to grasp information even when it is made readily available to them.
The introduction of Faber's character into the novel is quite significant. The old man represents knowledge. He is educated and realizes that book banning and book burning has made people less, rather than more, enlightened. Much of the imagery associated with Faber incorporates the color white - his walls, skin, hair, beard, eyes, are all described as white. Thus, his character is portrayed as pure and unspoiled amidst the technology that has sullied the minds and characters of so many others. Faber is likened to water, a cleansing, renewing entity, which, when combined with the fire associated with Montag, should, ideally, give rise to the "wine" of truth and knowledge.
It is ironic that Faber tells Montag the world necessitates leisure, in addition to information and the right to act on free thought, because leisure is one entity that no one lacks. Here, Bradbury makes a distinction between the free time afforded by technology and the will and knowledge to use it productively.
The theme of self-destruction runs through 'The Sieve and the Sand'. The reader sees Millie through the eyes of her husband as, "a wax doll melting in its own heat." By using the familiar images of heat and fire, Bradbury presents Millie as fostering her own self destruction by choosing to ignore and abandon reality rather than seek out truth, as her husband aspires to do. Despite his intentions, we see Montag display a self-destructive streak when he insists, despite Faber's admonishments, on engaging Millie and her friends and reading poetry to them. The theme of self-destruction is also visited during Montag and Faber's initial conversation in Faber's apartment, when Faber speaks of the proposed plot to undermine the authority of firemen by planting books in their homes by saying, "the salamander devours its tail." This image incorporates both the established symbol for firemen, and the idea of self-destruction present throughout the second part of the book.
Montag's disdain for Millie's friends is a microcosm of his disdain for all of society. The women's selfishness, revealed through their nonchalance about the upcoming war in which their husbands will fight, and through their disregard for children, is in keeping with the prevalent attitudes of a society where maintaining one's own illusion of happiness is the only priority. This 'happiness' is advertised through the 'Cheshire Cat' smiles the women wear. The reader is cognizant that personal happiness in this society is only an illusion, reminded of Montag's realization that his own "burnt-in" smile no longer contorts his face. Montag discovers that he is not truly happy, but his wife and her friends are unable to see the truth.
The poem that Montag chooses to read to his guests, "Dover Beach", presents themes found throughout the book, including loss of faith, the need to care and be cared for, the destruction of war, and the desire for happy illusions to be true. In addition, a "beach" conveys images of sand and water, two symbols also alluded to throughout the novel.
At work, Montag deals with a barrage of quotes spewed from Beatty, disparaging books and their value. Meanwhile, Faber chirps in Montag's ear via radio, urging him to bite his tongue and not to accept Beatty's arguments. This scene, in which the reader can almost picture the angel Faber and the devil Beatty competing for Montag's sympathy and attention, encompasses the ongoing struggle between good and evil that has, until now, been raging in Montag's mind.
In keeping with its frantic tone, 'The Sieve and the Sand' ends with the story's climax - the arrival of the firemen at Montag's house. At this point, Montag is stripped of his former life. Because he deviated from the norm, choosing books and truth over the illusion of happiness he once embraced, Montag will lose his home and livelihood.