Study Guide

Fahrenheit 451 Wisdom and Knowledge

By Ray Bradbury

Wisdom and Knowledge

Part Two: The Sieve and the Sand
Guy Montag

"Off-hours, yes. But time to think? If you're not driving a hundred miles an hour, at a clip where you can't think of anything else but the danger, then you're playing some game or sitting in some room where you can't argue with the fourwall televisor. Why? The televisor is ‘real.’ It is immediate, it has dimension. It tells you what to think and blasts it in. It must be, right. It seems so right. It rushes you on so quickly to its own conclusions your mind hasn't time to protest, ‘What nonsense!'" (2.131-4)

Check out what happens when Montag hits the river and has real pause to think, for the first time in the novel…

"Nobody listens any more. I can't talk to the walls because they're yelling at me. I can't talk to my wife; she listens to the walls. I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough, it'll make sense. And I want you to teach me to understand what I read." (2.125)

For Montag, books are more about communication than anything else. That’s why it wasn’t enough for him to read them on his own, why he insisted that his wife do it with him and later, realizing she was inadequate, that he find a teacher.

Montag walked to the kitchen and threw the book down. "Montag," he said, "you're really stupid. Where do we go from here? Do we turn the books in, forget it?" He opened the book to read over Mildred's laughter. Poor Millie, he thought. Poor Montag, it's mud to you, too. But where do you get help, where do you find a teacher this late? (2.31)

Montag doesn’t have the strength to rebel alone and always looks for an accomplice.

"I don't want to change sides and just be told what to do. There's no reason to change if I do that."

"You're wise already!" (2.237-239)

Fahrenheit 451 reminds us that it’s the process of independent thought that matters, more than the knowledge itself.

Professor Faber

Montag sensed it was a rhymeless poem. Then the old man grew even more courageous and said something else and that was a poem, too. Faber held his hand over his left coat pocket and spoke these words gently, and Montag knew if he reached out, he might pull a book of poetry from the man's coat. But he did not reach out. His hands stayed on his knees, numbed and useless. "I don't talk things, sir," said Faber. "I talk the meaning of things. I sit here and know I'm alive." (2.36)

Books hold value for Faber only in so far as they apply to life. He’s not a pedant by any stretch of the imagination.

Part Three: Burning Bright

The sun burned every day. It burned Time. The world rushed in a circle and turned on its axis and time was busy burning the years and the people anyway, without any help from him. So if he burnt things with the firemen, and the sun burnt Time, that meant that everything burnt! (3.231)

This is the wisdom Montag gains in the course of the novel, that life is made of both constructive and destructive phases. He reads this in a passage of the Bible, of course, but it holds no meaning for him until he can experience it for himself.

Would he have time for a speech? As the Hound seized him, in view of ten or twenty or thirty million people, mightn't he sum up his entire life in the last week in one single phrase or a word that would stay with them long after the Hound had turned, clenching him in its metal-plier jaws, and trotted off in darkness, while the camera remained stationary, watching the creature dwindle in the distance—a splendid fade-out! What could he say in a single word, a few words, that would sear all their faces and wake them up? (3.177)

This is why Montag likes books: their ability to put words to otherwise incommunicable emotions.

He walked on the track.

And he was surprised to learn how certain he suddenly was of a single fact he could not prove.

Once, long ago, Clarisse had walked here, where he was walking now. (3.266-8)

Real wisdom isn’t learned from books or taught by others: it’s intuitive, self-taught.

He floated on his back when the valise filled and sank; the river was mild and leisurely, going away from the people who ate shadows for breakfast and steam for lunch and vapours for supper. The river was very real; it held him comfortably and gave him the time at last, the leisure, to consider this month, this year, and a lifetime of years. He listened to his heart slow. His thoughts stopped rushing with his blood. (3.229)

Remember when Mildred said that books weren’t real? Compare that to this passage, in which the river is "very real." Does this remind you of Faber’s claim that books matter because they show us the real fibers of life?

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...