The protagonist is a 30 year old fireman who makes his living by burning books and the houses where they are illegally kept. At the start of the novel, Montag seems to be the quintessential fireman; delighting in the work of burning books and homes, and believing himself a happy man. However, as the novel progresses, Montag becomes increasingly discontent as he realizes he has been living an empty, unfulfilling life. Initially, Montag is unsure of the cause behind his apathy for his wife, job, and the society in which he lives. Through his friendship with Clarisse McClellan, Montag comes to realize that he is not in love with his wife and that he is, in fact, disgusted with himself and those around him for choosing to embrace the unimportant, cosmetic façade of life rather than examine what lies beneath. During a certain alarm, Montag and the other firemen burn a woman alive in her own home, because she refuses to abandon her books. At this fire, Montag secretly takes a book home, something we soon learn he has done before. Following this horrific experience, Montag develops a psychosomatic ailment and questions whether he can continue in his line of work. Despite the constant bullying of his boss, Chief Beatty, Montag turns to Professor Faber, a man of books who Montag met once long ago, for guidance in his quest for knowledge. Montag's internal struggle and impatience for ignorance continue and are brought to a head when he finds himself on an alarm to burn his own home. Unable to contain his contempt any longer, Montag kills Chief Beatty and sets out to see Faber, his mentor, before fleeing police and certain death by floating down river. Montag completes his journey when he finds Granger and other like-minded book loving individuals along the train tracks. Together, Granger, Montag and the others witness an atomic blast that destroys the city, and begin on a quest to assist in the rebirth of a new society based on truth and knowledge.
Mildred (Millie) Montag
Montag's wife of ten years epitomizes the shallowness and complacentness of society that Montag comes to despise. Millie forgoes real happiness to immerse herself in the technological gadgets of the age, such as her television walls and seashell radios, which allow her a constant escape from reality. Millie's need for escape also leads her to a suicide attempt that after recovering from, she does not even recall. Eventually, Millie is overwhelmed by her husband's discovery and dedication to books, reports his illegal activity and flees the house. Millie, the epitome of Fahrenheit 451's empty society, is undoubtedly destroyed when the city is decimated by an atomic bomb at the conclusion of the novel.
Clarisse is a wide-eyed 17 year old girl to whom Montag is drawn. Clarisse is interested in parts of the world Montag doesn't understand, such as watching people, looking at the moon, and smelling the leaves. Clarisse has no taste for the advanced technology her society has come to depend on, and thus represents the antithesis of Millie, Montag's wife. Montag admires Clarisse for her curiosity and awareness of the world around her, and is disturbed by her accurate understanding of his empty, loveless life. Thus, Clarisse is the first to encourage Montag on his path to self-awareness. Soon after she and Montag develop a friendship, Clarisse is killed by a speeding car. Her death represents the intolerance of an overbearing, dehumanized society for those who do not conform.
The antagonist of the novel, Captain Beatty, runs the fire house where Montag works. The firemens' sole purpose is to sniff out and destroy books and, therefore, destroy the seeds of free thought. A "big brother" character to Montag, Captain Beatty demonstrates vast literary knowledge in his arguments against the presence of books in society. Beatty often antagonistically lectures Montag, trying to prevent him from succumbing to the appeal of books. Towards the end of the novel, Montag kills Beatty with the firethrower that has burned thousands of books and hopes. Rather than fighting Montag, Beatty simply accepts his death. Montag later realizes that the fire chief wanted to die, demonstrating an extreme dissatisfaction with his life.
An aging intellectual in a world with no place for such people, Faber greatly disapproves of the dehumanized, oppressive society in which he lives. However, Faber feels it is safer to live discreetly rather than protest or attempt to change the world. Faber and Montag first met years ago in a park and after a long discussion about books, gave Montag his contact information. After Montag is taken in by the magic of books, he seeks Faber out and together, the two men try to work together against their oppressive society. When Montag is running from the law, Faber helps him escape. At the end of the novel, we are led to believe that Faber escapes the atomic bomb, as he had planned to catch an early bus out of the city.
An intellectual and former author, Granger is the leader of the group of hoboes that Montag meets along the tracks after fleeing from the police and Hound. Like Clarisse and Faber, Granger is a sympathetic character, taking Montag under his wing and encouraging him in his quest to remember and comprehend what he has read. Granger speaks highly of his grandfather and his belief that as long as one has contributed to the world, his or her life was important. After the city is destroyed, Granger leads Montag and the other intellectuals to rebuild an improved, literate society.
The terrible triumph of modern technology, the Mechanical Hound is programmed to track down and destroy any victim to whom its infallible sensors are set, and can distinguish over 10,000 different scents. After Montag murders Beatty, the Hound stabs and injects Montag's leg with procaine. However, Montag is able to successfully destroy the Hound with the flamethrower. Authorities send in a second Hound to hunt him down, but Montag is able to throw it off his scent and escape. Unfortunately, the Hound kills an innocent man whom the media claims in Montag, thus keeping the faith and fear of the people.
The old woman is one of the victims of the firemens' fury. Rather than surrendering her books and saving herself, the old woman chooses to burn herself to death among her treasured possessions. While in her house, Montag steals a book that he later hides in his home. Throughout the novel, Montag is unable to forget the image of the old woman, and wonders what in books could possibly inspire so much passion.
Black and Stoneman
These two men are firemen who work with Montag and share the "burnt-in" smile and unquestioning devotion to book burning Montag feels early in the novel. Montag threatens to kill Black and Stoneman when they approach him after he burns Beatty. Later, while running from the authorities Montag plants a book in Black's house. It is presumed Black and Stonemen are killed when the city is destroyed.
Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Bowles
These two women are housewives and friends of Millie, sharing her interest in the television and her simplistic outlook on life. The three women gather to watch "the family" on Montag's walls. Their chatter reveals their selfishness and lack of purpose. They are unconcerned for their husbands and children and chose the presidential candidate for whom they voted based on looks. The two women surprise both themselves and Montag when they are greatly affected by the poetry he reads to them.
Fahrenheit 451 Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Fahrenheit 451 is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book.
Fahrenheit 451 is based on a short story called "The Fireman" written by Bradbury in 1951 and later expanded into a full novel in 1953. The Fahrenheit 451 study guide contains a biography of Ray Bradbury, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.