Fahrenheit 451 Summary and Analysis

Part III

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Part III: Burning Bright

Summary:

Having just arrived at his own house in response to a fire alarm, Montag is numb with disbelief. His coworkers rush into his house as Millie, who turned him in, rushes out and hurries by without a word. Captain Beatty needles him, chiding him for thinking he could keep his books concealed and asking why he didn't turn them in when the Hound came sniffing around. As Beatty continues his lecture, Faber speaks to Montag through their secret radio asking what is going on and telling him to run away. However, Montag explains he is trapped. Any attempt to escape will send the Mechanical Hound after him. Beatty orders Montag to burn down the house on his own, room by room, with a flamethrower. As if living a nightmare, Montag complies, methodically destroying all his possessions. When finished, he stands in front of Beatty, numb and dejected, but still holding on to the flamethrower. Beatty asks why Montag felt the need to keep books. When Montag doesn't answer, Beatty hits him, knocking Faber's secret radio from his ear. Beatty picks it up, saying he will have to trace it and, "drop in on your friend". In silence, Montag switches the safety catch on the flamethrower. At first, Beatty is taken aback, but he quickly recovers and continues his berating speech, demanding that Montag turn the weapon over. Montag refuses, flips the switch, and burns Beatty to death.

The Mechanical Hound appears on the scene, and stabs Montag in the leg with his powerful, long needle. Montag fights back with his flamethrower, destroying the machine. Free of the Hound, Montag takes off running, forcing his leg forward even though it causes him immense pain. Before fleeing his house, Montag remembers the books in his garden, and goes to save them. He finds four books remaining, gathers them up and flees the scene. Under the strain, his leg collapses and he falls to the ground. Crying uncontrollably, Montag realizes Beatty had wanted to die. He knew Montag was going to kill him, and rather than making him stop or dodging the flames, Beatty stood still, waiting for death. Montag's thoughts are interrupted by the sound of hurried footsteps. He quickly rises to his feet and stumbles off into the night, evading capture. Through his seashell radio, he hears police bulletins about his flight and the authorities in pursuit. With nowhere else to go, Montag runs toward Faber's house.

With police helicopters circling above and declarations of war echoing from the radio, Montag slips into a gas station restroom to wash up. Afterwards, as he walks across the boulevard, a speeding car trains its headlights on him. Thinking it is a police car, Montag begins to run, dropping a book in the process. Just as the car catches up to him, he falls to the ground and it veers away, running over the tip of his finger. In fact, it wasn't the police at all, but a group of kids that go speeding off into the night. They thought aiming for Montag was entertainment, and only avoided driving over him because it would have caused the car to flip over. Had he not fallen, the car would most likely have crashed right into him. Shaken, Montag continues on his way, stopping only to plant books in a fellow fireman's home.

Upon arriving at Faber's, Montag tells the old man that he killed Beatty and confesses that he doesn't know what to do next. He apologizes for putting Faber in danger by coming to his home, but the old man thanks him for making him feel alive again. He advises Montag to follow the river down to the old train tracks and walk along them, in the hope that he will discover one of the hobo "walking camps" which provide refuge for the aging, hunted intellectuals deemed dangerous to society. Faber plans to go to St. Louis to track down a retired printer friend and use money Montag brought with him to print books. The two men turn on Faber's tiny television for news on the chase, and learn that another Mechanical Hound has been dispatched to find and kill Montag. To mask his trail, Montag takes Faber's oldest, dirtiest clothes and instructs the man to burn what he has touched, wipe down his home with alcohol, and to turn his air-conditioning and sprinklers on full-blast.

Montag takes off running, but pauses to peer into a house window to see how the search is progressing on the television. He sees the hound running through town and stopping in front of Faber's house for a nervous moment before bounding away. Slightly relieved, Montag continues on as the radio announcer prompts everyone in the area to simultaneously look outside their homes for Montag. Luckily, by the time the given count has expired, Montag has reached the river, where he strips, douses himself in alcohol, and changes into Faber's dirty clothing before floating off down the river, thinking about fire and burning.

Soon afterwards, Montag's feet touch the ground and he reaches the riverbank. The smell of hay wafts through the air, bringing back a childhood memory of visiting a barn. He fantasizes about sleeping on a bed of warm, dry hay in a barn loft and awaking to a cool glass of milk and some fruit left for him by a lovely young woman reminiscent of Clarisse. His daydream is interrupted when a deer moves nearby. At first, the nervous Montag thinks it is the Mechanical Hound, but is relieved to realize his mistake.

Montag wanders until he comes to train tracks, which he follows, as Faber advised, unable to shake a distinct feeling that Clarisse had once followed the same path. After half an hour, he sees the flicker of a fire in the distance. When he finally reaches it, he finds a group of scruffy-looking men gathered around it, engaged in discussion. The group's unofficial leader, Granger, addresses Montag by name, inviting him to join them and giving him coffee. Granger recognized Montag from the police search that the men have been following on a portable television. To help mask his scent from the Mechanical Hound, Granger gives Montag a bitter drink that will change his chemical balance. The men watch the small television together, and Montag is shocked to see the Mechanical Hound hunt down and kill an innocent man. The announcer proclaims that Montag has been caught and killed, ending the search. The police, not wanting to lose face or the confidence of the people, have targeted a random citizen rather than admit they lost track of Montag.

After a few moments, Granger introduces the shaken Montag to his companions. They are all old intellectuals: authors, professors and clergymen who are hiding out along the tracks to avoid imprisonment. Each of the men, Montag learns, has memorized a work of literature, so they may keep books alive until it is safe to print them again. Granger explains that they will pass their knowledge through generations until such a time when people are again enlightened enough to seek out ideas and opportunities to learn.

The men move downstream and rest for the night. In the morning, enemy bombs annihilate the city. Watching the distant explosion, and fighting against the force the bomb throws on the riverbank, Montag is unmoved when he realizes Mildred most likely lies dead in the rubble. Granger talks of being saddened when his grandfather passed on because he would no longer be around to continue his many good works. Montag cannot think of a single way in which Millie had an affect on the world and is saddened. Amidst visions of the war's destruction and Millie's fate, Montag finally remembers where he met her - Chicago. Later, the men cook some bacon for breakfast, during which Granger compares society to the mythical phoenix. Every so often, the phoenix would burn itself to death only to spring to life again, born anew from the ashes. He hopes that eventually, man will learn the lessons of history and stop destroying his society. The novel closes with the men setting off toward the city to begin the city's rebirth.

Analysis

The title of the third section, "Burning Bright", references the many allusions to fire and burning in the text. First, Montag burns his home and his possessions. Ironically, Montag does not grieve the loss of his home or possessions. In contrast, he feels unburdened by releasing himself from the intrusive television walls that plagued his life. Thus, Montag's flamethrower dispenses powers of destruction and of cleansing. Before ordering him to burn down his own house, Beatty baits Montag, comparing him as Icarus and thus alluding that Montag, by harboring books, has flown too close to the sun and shall now fall to his death. With this analogy, Beatty argues that those who defy the law of the land will meet their end. Ironically, Beatty is actually the man that dies, while Montag escapes and begins a new life. When Montag kills Beatty with the flamethrower, Bradbury compares him to a charred wax doll, a description reminiscent of an earlier reference to Millie as a wax doll melting under its own heat. Later on, Montag encounters a camp fire when he meets Granger and the other intellectuals. This fire is welcoming, different from the fire Montag has always known, and shows him that fire can be a source of warmth and sustenance rather than a source of death and destruction. Finally, Montag witnesses the fire and destruction the atomic bombs bring to the city. Throughout this section, many things are "burning bright", including Montag's idealism and adherence to promoting truth and knowledge.

Soon after killing Beatty, Montag realizes Beatty wanted to die. He made no effort to avoid the flames. Here, Bradbury acknowledges that even people involved in oppression can know their actions are wrong, but are too weak to fight against them. Therefore, Beatty's death is truly one of self-destruction. His own inaction allows his life to reach this point, and knowing he is unhappy and dissatisfied, Beatty allows Montag to burn him to death.

As Montag flees, having been stabbed by the Mechanical Hound, his leg is injured, "like a chunk of burnt pine log he was carrying along as a penance for some obscure sin." In society's view, Montag's sin is harboring books. But, in Montag's view, he has sinned many times, burning houses and books of innocent people. Montag suffers for all the truth he has destroyed, but survives because his actions now are beneficial to maintaining an intellectual society.

While Montag flees, he hears an announcement that war has been proclaimed. Simultaneously, Montag has begun his own war. He is committed to his cause, murdered the enemy, and is on the run to survive. As society battles against itself, Montag battles against society. Throughout the book, whispers of war grow in frequency along with the strengthening of Montag's internal turmoil and disillusion. Thus, it is only fitting that the two conflicts come to a head at the same time. The book's dramatic peak occurs in this section, as Montag's house is destroyed, his marriage ends, he kills his boss, runs for his life, finds safety, and watches as the city is destroyed.

In part three, Montag's old life is destroyed and he is re-born when he emerges from the river to begin anew. Montag floats down the river in peace and with ease, and the large body of water carefully deposits him on the riverbank. Representing renewal and rebirth, the river offers Montag a new chance at life, away from the city, and with new friends who share his beliefs. He walks up on the shore dressed as an intellectual, wearing Faber's clothes, and cleansed of his kerosene scent. Montag's transformation is completed when he drinks the elixir offered him by the men on the tracks. Having altered the chemical composition of his body scent, he is no longer Montag the fireman or Montag the fugitive. Now he is Montag the intellectual, keeper of truth.

The men that Montag meets on the tracks, led by Granger, are the antithesis of those he left behind in the city. They are educated men who love and revere books, rather than burning them. Their camp fire serves as a beacon of light for Montag to follow, representing warmth and safety rather than the destruction he is used to.

When the man set up to look like Montag is killed, it is symbolic not only of the dishonesty perpetuated by society, but of the death of Montag the fireman. Having completed his metamorphosis, Montag is a new person. Thus, when Granger says, "welcome back from the dead," he is actually welcoming the new Montag to a life of thinking and awareness, as opposed to the illusion of happy existence he had previously known.

Granger refers to the lessons of history indirectly in two ways. He talks fondly of his grandfather, from whom he took the lesson that one must strive to contribute to the world and leave something behind. He also talks of the mythical phoenix and how it continually burned itself and was reborn, only to make the same mistake again and again for lack of memory. Society has taken after the phoenix. After the city is destroyed, those left along the tracks set out to rebuild it. There is hope in this, as these are men who mind the lessons of history.

The book concludes with Granger, Montag, and his newfound friends walking toward the destroyed city. Hope for the chance to build a new society and hope for the future of man burns bright in the hearts and minds of these men.