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Set in the 24th century, Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of the protagonist, Guy Montag. At first, Montag takes pleasure in his profession as a fireman, burning illegally owned books and the homes of their owners. However, Montag soon begins to question the value of his profession and, in turn, his life. Throughout the novel Montag struggles with his existence, eventually fleeing his oppressive, censored society and joining an underground network of intellectuals. With his newfound friends, Montag witnesses the atomic destruction if his former city and dedicates himself to rebuilding a literate and cultural society.
At the beginning of the novel, Montag develops a friendship with his 17 year old neighbor, Clarisse McClellan, whose humanistic outlook and inquisitive nature prompt Montag to examine his life. Soon, he realizes he is unhappy and no longer loves his wife, Millie. Meanwhile, Millie is unwilling to deal with reality and instead chooses to immerse herself in interactive television, seashell radio, and an addiction to tranquilizers. Unfulfilled by his occupation and discontent with a society unconcerned with reports of an impending atomic war, Montag begins to question the ways of the world. Specifically, Montag wonders why books are perceived to be so dangerous and why some people are so loyal to them. What power lies in books?
Driven by his increasing uneasiness, Montag steals a book from a collection he is sent to burn. At the scene of the burning, Montag is shaken when the owner of the books, an older woman, refuses to leave her home. Instead, the woman sets fire to her kerosene soaked house and remains there as it, and she, are destroyed by flames. The woman’s dedication to her books makes Montag realize that perhaps the happiness he lacks can be found in books. After the burning, Montag returns home, feeling ill as he relives the woman’s horrific death. He begins to realize that although, over the past ten years, he thought he was serving society as a fireman, he was actually purely an instrument of destruction. That night, in a discussion with Millie, Montag learns that his friend Clarisse was killed by a speeding car more than a week earlier. Upon hearing this news, Montag feels even more ill. He falls asleep that night with his stolen book hidden underneath his pillow.
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