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The Hearth and the Salamander
On a rainy night while returning from his job, Guy Montag is followed by a cheery 17-year-old girl (she later admits to being a month short of 17 years old) named Clarisse McClellan. Clarisse initially bothers Montag with her incessant questions (and Clarisse is a bit bothered by Montag's uncalled-for reactions, such as laughing when she hasn't said anything funny), but Montag chooses to tolerate her as she tells him of how she loves nature and walking around and observing how crazy the world has become. The two walk until they reach Clarisse's house (which is next to Montag's). Before Clarisse goes inside, she asks Montag if he's happy. The question catches Montag by surprise and he mulls over his encounter with Clarisse (and how similar it was to another encounter in the park involving an English professor who was afraid of Montag).
Montag enters his bedroom, and finds Mildred in bed with her Seashell ear radio in her ear, staring vacantly at the ceiling (just as she's been doing for the past ten years or so). Montag doesn't notice anything wrong until his foot hits Mildred's empty sleeping pill bottle. Montag tries to wake up his wife, but she doesn't respond. Montag calls for medical attention, trying to shout over the screams of the passing jet engines above the house. Because "accidental" prescription pill overdoses have become commonplace, the medical department sends over two cynical, uncaring technicians who use a stomach pump to flush the poisons out of Mildred's system and replace her blood with a fresh, synthetic replacement. Montag stands outside Clarisse's house and sees that she and her family are the only ones in the neighborhood with the lights on and engaging in a spirited conversation. Montag returns to his house, sees that Mildred is looking slightly better than before, and goes to bed.
The next day, Montag finds Mildred in the kitchen, making breakfast and complaining of an upset stomach. Montag tries to tell his wife that she overdosed, but is interrupted by Mildred's ramblings of her stomach hurting, but being hungry, and rationalizes that the feeling is from drinking too much alcohol during a party. As Montag leaves for work, he finally tells Mildred (who is watching an interactive soap opera on the "parlor walls"—three enormous, floor-to-ceiling television screens) that she overdosed on sleeping pills. Mildred denies that she would do something that suicidal, but Montag insists. Mildred brushes off the issue and returns to her soap opera. Over the next few days, Montag bonds with Clarisse, who tells him that her interest in intellectual activities has made her an outcast in a society dominated by shallow entertainment, and for that, she has no friends and has to see a psychiatrist. On the final day, however, Clarisse doesn't appear alongside Montag. Montag waits for her, but the wait is short-lived when the train comes to take him to work.
A few days later, the firemen are called in to burn down the house of an old woman who has been hoarding books. The firemen go to arrest her, but instead the woman recites a quotation from Hugh Latimer and refuses to leave. As the firemen toss the books from the woman's upstairs bedroom down to the living room floor and spray the pile with kerosene, Montag accidentally reads a line in one of her books and hides it away before any of his coworkers can see. The woman is given a final warning to leave the house, but the woman produces a match. Before she can strike it, the firemen flee, save for Montag, who watches as the woman lights the match, drops it in the kerosene, and is engulfed in flames.
Montag comes home from the jarring experience and tries to take his mind off the event by asking a half-asleep Mildred where the two first met and when. Mildred tries to remember, but can't, laughing it off as she heads to the bathroom to take her sleeping pills. As Montag reflects on his stagnant, stilted marriage to Mildred (and how Mildred has become emotionally and mentally dead from watching her "parlor wall" entertainment, driving recklessly, and her sleeping pill addiction), Montag begins to cry when realizing that if Mildred died, he wouldn't miss her at all. Montag then asks Mildred about Clarisse and her whereabouts. Mildred initially denies knowledge of what happened to Clarisse, then tells Montag exactly what happened to her: Clarisse was run over by a speeding car and, once her family heard the news about her death, they packed up and moved away, all of which happened four days ago. Montag is shocked that Mildred didn't tell him the grim news sooner and more disturbed over Mildred's apathy over the death of someone Montag had genuinely liked.
Montag wakes up physically ill and begs Mildred to call in sick for him. Mildred refuses and doesn't believe that Montag is really sick (even when Montag vomits on the rug from the stench of kerosene—which earlier was like a perfume to him—Mildred is only concerned about whether or not the vomit stain will come out in the wash). Captain Beatty, Montag's fire chief, personally visits him and tells him the story of how books lost their value and where the firemen fit in: Over the course of several decades (with the starting point being after the American Civil War), populations grew and people embraced new media, sports, and a quickening pace of life. Books were ruthlessly abridged and degraded to accommodate a shorter attention span. Later, minorities and other special-interest groups began criticizing books for their controversial content while other critics bashed authors for making people feel inferior by publishing works that no one could comprehend. Books became blander and blander due to censorship measures, and eventually, books stopped selling and authors were either locked away in insane asylums or gave up their profession and lived in exile. The only reading material that the society now accepts are captionless comics, three-dimensional sex magazines, trade magazines, and scripts used during the interactive plays on the parlor walls. To get rid of the books from the past (and their copies), the government implemented a program using the firemen to burn the books (now that houses were being rebuilt to be fire-resistant) and placate the masses. As Beatty is giving his monologue, Mildred tries to fluff Montag's pillow and nearly discovers the book hidden underneath. Montag yells at her and Mildred, at the request of Beatty, quietly leaves the room to watch the parlor walls. Beatty knows that Montag has a book but acts casual about it, stating that it's natural that every fireman gets curious about books and starts to possess one. If the book isn't burned or returned to the firehouse within 24 hours then the firemen will burn it for him.
When Beatty is gone, Montag shows Mildred the books he has hidden in the ventilator of their home. Mildred tries to incinerate the books, but Montag subdues her and tells her that the two of them are going to read the books to see if they have value. If they do not, he promises the books will be burned and all will return to normal.
The Sieve and the Sand
While going over the stolen books (and nearly getting caught by the firehouse's Mechanical Hound), Mildred argues with Montag that books have no meaning and questions why Montag dragged her into this. Montag snaps back by mentioning Mildred's overdose, Clarisse's death, the book woman who burned herself, and how society is falling apart due to apathy, ignorance, and a pending war, then states that maybe the books of the past have messages in them that can save society from its own destruction. Before Montag can finish, Mildred gets a call from her friends about coming over to watch The White Clown on the parlor walls.
Montag laments that his wife is hopeless(and he will be too if he can't force himself to absorb the information in the books). Montag then remembers a man he once met in the park a year ago: Faber, a former English professor. Montag seeks Faber's help, though Faber refuses at first due to his cowardice. When Montag starts to rip a few pages from the beginning of a rare copy of The New Testament, Faber relents and teaches Montag about the importance of literature in its attempt to explain human existence. He gives Montag an ear-piece communicator he made himself so that Faber can offer guidance throughout his daily activities.
At Montag's house, Mildred has her friends, Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Bowles, over to watch the parlor walls. In the middle of a bloody demolition derby, Montag unplugs the walls and engages the women into meaningful conversation, only to find them concerned only with pleasure in the present moment. Montag then brings out a book of poetry to scare some emotion into them (despite Faber's warnings). Mildred tries to cover up Montag's actions by claiming that, once a year, firemen bring home one book and read it aloud as a form of mocking past literature. Mildred then turns to a page in the book that has the poem Dover Beach on it and assures that none of her friends will understand any of the words. A shaken, confused Montag reads the poem, which ends up making Mrs. Phelps cry. Mrs. Bowles, however, is disgusted, accuses Montag of being nasty, and ends her friendship with Mildred. Montag yells at the women to go home and reflect on their empty lives and burns the poetry book while Mildred locks herself in the bathroom to take her pills.
Montag returns to the firehouse the next day with only one of the books, which Beatty tosses into the trash. Beatty tells Montag that he had a dream in which they fought endlessly by quoting books to each other. In describing the dream Beatty shows that, despite his disillusionment, he was once an enthusiastic reader. A fire alarm sounds and Beatty picks up the address from the dispatcher system. He reminds Montag of his duty, theatrically leads the crew to the fire engine, and drives it to Montag's house.
Beatty orders Montag to destroy his own house, telling him that his wife and neighbors were the ones who reported him. Montag tries to talk to Mildred as she quickly leaves the house, but Mildred ignores him, gets inside a waiting taxi, and vanishes down the street. Montag obeys the chief, destroying the home piece by piece with a flamethrower. As soon as he has incinerated the house, Beatty discovers Montag's earpiece (the green bullet) and plans to hunt down Faber. Montag threatens Beatty with the flamethrower and (after Beatty taunts him) burns his boss alive, and knocks his coworkers unconscious. As Montag escapes the scene, the firehouse's mechanical hound attacks him, managing to inject his leg with a tranquilizer. He destroys it with the flamethrower and limps away.
Montag runs through the city streets, to Faber's house. Faber urges him to make his way to the countryside and contact the exiled book-lovers who live there. On Faber's television, they watch news reports of another mechanical hound being released, with news helicopters following it to create a public spectacle. Montag leaves Faber's house and escapes the manhunt by jumping into a river and floating downstream into the countryside. There he meets the exiles, who have memorized various books for an upcoming time when society is ready to rediscover them. The war begins, and then, just as suddenly, ends. Montag watches helplessly as jet bombers fly overhead and attack the city with nuclear weapons, completely annihilating it. Faber escaped the city earlier on a bus, but Mildred was certainly killed.
During breakfast at dawn, Granger (leader of the group of wandering intellectuals) discusses the legendary phoenix and its endless cycle of long life, death in flames, and rebirth, adding that the phoenix must have some relation to mankind, which constantly repeats its mistakes, but that man has something the phoenix does not; man can remember the mistakes it made from before it destroyed itself, and try to not make them again. Granger then muses that a large factory of mirrors should be built, so that mankind can take a long look at itself. When the meal is over, the band goes back toward the city, to help rebuild society.
- Plot summary
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- Further reading