Study Guide

Fahrenheit 451 Part Three: Burning Bright

By Ray Bradbury

Part Three: Burning Bright

  • Beatty taunts Montag for a bit and Mildred runs out of the house, a suitcase in her hand, to a taxi waiting at the curb. Montag realizes that she is the one who called the alarm.
  • Faber, through the earpiece, tries to figure out what’s going on. Montag stands around dazed that this is happening to him.
  • Faber realizes what’s up and advises Montag to run. Meanwhile Beatty has flicked his igniter and is admiring the beauty of the fire. Man is drawn to flame, he says, because it is perpetual motion; it is the one thing man always wanted to invent but never did. Fire will rid him of his burdens – like Montag.
  • Beatty insists that Montag burn his entire house himself, with a flame thrower.
  • Faber again suggests that Montag run away, but he responds (aloud, which is not so smart) that he can’t because of the Hound.
  • Beatty hears him but writes it off, agreeing that, yes, the hound is out there somewhere.
  • So Montag goes in and starts burning – the bedroom, the cosmetics, Mildred’s stuff. This is all very satisfying for him, but Beatty reminds him that, actually, he’s there to burn the books, remember?
  • So he burns those, too – and the dreaded television screens in the parlour. When he’s finished, Beatty intends to arrest him.
  • By the time the burning house falls down, it’s 3:30 in the morning. The firemen, including the Captain Beatty, are standing outside watching it fall.
  • Montag asks the Captain if his wife was the one to turn in the alarm. Yes, says Beatty, but her girlfriends had already done so earlier that evening. It was pretty stupid to read poetry aloud like that – you can’t walk on water with books, he says.
  • Montag can’t move. (This happens to him a lot.) He feels as though his life and identity have been buried beneath his fallen house.
  • Beatty starts hitting him, and Faber begs him to run away. Finally the Captain hits him hard enough to knock the earpiece out and into the ground. Beatty picks it up and hears Faber calling. He tells Montag that they’ll trace it and find his friend.
  • Montag points the flame thrower at Beatty – though he believes his hands, not he himself, have done it.
  • Beatty laughs, obviously not taking the threat seriously.
  • Montag burns Beatty to ashes. Then he knocks out the two remaining firemen. Then he turns around to find the Mechanical Hound.

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  • Montag is attacked and flames the dog mid-air. Before it dies, it jabs its needle part of the way into his leg, rendering it numb.
  • Effectively down one appendage, Montag hobbles away from the scene of his crime(s).
  • As he stumbles along, Montag curses himself for being, in short, a moron. He checks his stash of books he left in a bush behind the house and finds four left.
  • He then comes to one sudden realization: Beatty wanted to die. He must have taunted Montag purposefully to make him commit murder. Now he feels guilty.
  • Taking the books with him, Montag walks on his numb leg until he regains feeling. Meanwhile he justifies what he’s done with a little ‘burn or be burned’ attitude. He listens to his Fireman Seashell radio and hears the report on himself, now a fugitive.
  • He starts running in the shadows of the streets, towards Faber’s house, watching the police helicopters above him in the sky.
  • Montag stops by a gas station and sneaks into the bathroom. He overhears that war has been declared while he washes himself up (he was all sooty from burning his house down).
  • He readies himself to cross one of the highways (where cars go 100 mph or so) and is nearly hit by a car in the process. He falls to the ground; the car swerves around him, but it runs over the tip of his fingernail. Looking down the road at the car that hit him, Montag realizes that it is full of children of all ages. He imagines them cheering in the car, eager to kill him, and even wonders if they killed Clarisse…
  • Meanwhile the car has turned around and is coming back to get him again. (!!)
  • Montag escapes to the far side of the road.
  • Montag arrives at the house of a coworker, sneaks inside, and hides the four books in the kitchen. Then he finds a pay phone and calls in an alarm to that house.
  • Montag heads to Faber’s house. Faber is amazed to see him alive, and Montag is lamenting his earlier actions. Everything is gone, he realizes – his whole life is destroyed.
  • Faber is rejoicing at finally feeling alive. He believes he has at last ceased to be a coward. He asks Montag what his plans are. To run, he responds, even though there’s a war going on.
  • Montag leaves Faber with the money he has with him. The old man advises that Montag head for the river where there are old railroad lines that lead to the country. There are a lot of ex-intellectuals hanging around there, he says, and he’ll try to meet up with Montag again in St. Louis.
  • Before Montag leaves, Faber shows him a small television screen – the size of a postcard – in his bedroom. They turn to the news and watch the chase scene in progress. Since Montag flamed the town’s Mechanical Hound, a new one has been brought from the neighboring district.
  • They have a drink and worry that the Hound will track Montag by smell.
  • Montag imagines watching the chase as it progresses, right to Faber’s door, watching on the screen as the cameras enter the house and even seeing himself on TV as he gets killed by the Hound. He wonders if he would have time for a speech, and what he might say to the world.
  • Montag tells Faber to burn everything he might have gotten his stinky odor on after he leaves. (He wants to spare Faber the wrath of the Hound.) He then dresses in Faber’s old, smelly clothes to try to hide his own personal scent. He also takes the whiskey and leaves.
  • Montag turns to run, but stops and watches as the Mechanical Hound gets to Faber’s doorstep, sniffs around for a few tension-filled moments, and ultimately leaves.
  • As he runs toward the river, Montag listens again to the radio via the Seashell in his ear. The authorities are ordering every citizen in the district to look outside their window at the same time – this way they can cover all the city at once.
  • Montag is nervous, but makes it to the river just as the big group window activity commences. He bathes, ditches his old clothes, and takes the current downstream.
  • By the time the Mechanical Hound reaches the river, Montag is three hundred yards away; it loses his trail.
  • Floating in the river, Montag has time to think. Finally. He sees the moon and knows that the sun is there in the universe, constantly burning. The sun burns every day, which means the sun burns time. Montag decides that if the sun is always burning, and he and the other firemen are always burning things, then everything gets burnt, which is not OK. (We’re not kidding. This is his line of reasoning.)
  • Now he makes a little more sense: Montag concludes that the world can’t be full of all this destruction – it would mean that nothing is ever made, nothing is ever built. This is why he can never burn anything again.
  • The current takes him toward the shore, and he wonders why he’s no longer being pursued, why the chase has moved inland, away from the river.
  • Montag thinks about Mildred and is saddened. He remembers visiting a farm when he was a child and seeing nature as he is right now. He imagines sleeping in a bed of hay at a farmhouse and watching a young, beautiful woman behind a window braiding her hair – she reminds him of Clarisse.
  • All he would want then, he thinks, is to wake in the morning and go to the front steps and find fresh milk and fruit.
  • Montag thinks he sees two eyes looking at him from the woods.
  • Oh no! It might be the Hound! The game is up!
  • It’s not the Hound. The game is not up. It’s just a deer.
  • Next he stumbles on a railroad track, which is good, as he was mostly looking for these in the first place. He decides that Clarisse has walked here, long ago, along the same track.
  • Half an hour later Montag spots a fire in the darkness ahead. As he approaches, he realizes that the fire isn’t burning something up; it’s a warming fire. It’s being constructive, not destructive.
  • Then he hears voices, full of curiosity and wonder and entirely aware of the world around them. Finally he is called out – by name – from the shadows.
  • The men invite him to sit and have some coffee. The seeming leader of this band introduces himself as Granger and then explains how he can change Montag’s chemical smell to get the Hound off his trail. They’ve been watching his chase on TV, he says.
  • He shows Montag their portable TV and explains that the authorities will fake a capture – probably of some unsuspecting pedestrian. The men stand around and watch this happen. Then it’s all over.
  • Granger introduces a few other members of the band; they are all former professors and intellectuals. Granger himself is an author of non-fiction books exploring the relationship between the individual and society.

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  • Granger explains that they used to be angry individuals. But now they’ve banded together.
  • They ask Montag to join him – what does he have to offer? A bit of the Bible, he says, and Granger agrees that that will do, though Montag has only a few passages memorized.
  • That’s how it works, explains Granger – they keep the books in their heads. They already have a Book of Ecclesiastes, but if he should die, Montag has to take over.
  • Montag despairs: he remembers so little! But Granger assures him that the memories will come back to him. He then lists of all the books they have – one book per brain, essentially – and introduces the people who have memorized them.
  • Because books are illegal, Granger explains, they are too dangerous to keep around. So they memorized the books and then burned them.
  • Also, they’re of the ‘live and let live’ variety. They don’t try to bring down the system, and the system lets them be, albeit on the fringe. You can’t make people listen, he says, you have to wait until they want to learn.
  • There are thousands of these book people, all over the country. It was a grass roots thing; a bunch of people starting memorizing books they liked, then they realized there were others like them in the world. So they banded together, under the stipulation that they not act like pretentious pedants.
  • These people all consider themselves book jackets. They themselves are not important, only the information they carry matters. Maybe after the war is over they can rebuild, print books again, escape the current Dark Age until they inevitably fall into another one. The good thing about man, Granger explains, is that, while he does mess up repeatedly, he never gets so discouraged that he gives up entirely.
  • Together, Montag and the book people put out the fire and move further downstream.
  • Around five in the morning, Montag asks Granger why they’re all trusting him (Montag). Granger explains that the city authorities don’t bother with them, so harboring a fugitive isn’t exactly a problem.
  • Montag looks around at the other men, expecting to see their knowledge shining from their faces and shocked to find that they look rather ordinary. He realizes that these men aren’t certain of anything. Someone tells him not to judge a book by its cover, and a good chuckle is had by all.
  • They hear the sound of jet bombers from the distant city, and Montag stops to reflect that Mildred is back there. He explains to Granger that he doesn’t really care and wouldn’t cry if she died.
  • Granger explains that his grandfather died when he (Granger) was a little boy. He cried, not for his grandfather, but for all the things his grandfather had done. He was an independent thinker, a man of great artistic talent. He left so much behind when he died – so much he had touched and changed with his hands.
  • Unlike Granger’s grandfather, Mildred has done nothing with her hands (or life), Montag realizes.
  • If you opened his skull, says Granger, you’d find his grandfather’s thumbprint. He always encouraged his grandson to appreciate the wonders of the world.
  • Suddenly the sky is filled with bright flashing lights.
  • It’s a bunch of jet bombers. Montag cries for Clarisse and Faber to get out, but realizes that they’re not in the city anymore. Then he thinks of Mildred, lying under the rubble in the aftermath of the bombs. He remembers where they first met – Chicago.
  • Montag and the others are knocked over by the force of the blast, but not killed. The city is pretty much gone, though.
  • When Montag drags himself to his feet after the blast, he remembers part of the Book of Revelation, and the Book of Ecclesiastes. He notices more of the surroundings than he did before, and imagines that some day they will all see the world the way it really looks.
  • They look back at the city: it’s been completely leveled. Montag wonders how many are dead, here and elsewhere in the world, because of war.
  • The men start a small fire to cook breakfast, and make plans to head upstream where they will be needed.
  • Granger explains to the men what a phoenix is, how it rises up again out of its own ashes. Men are like that, he said, with one advantage: they are aware of all the stupid things they’ve just done to make themselves get burnt up.
  • As they ready to travel again, Granger reminds Montag that they are not important, that only the books are, that even when books were legal people never used what they got out of them. When someone asks what they are doing, he explains, they should report that they are remembering. Their job is to build a mirror factory and take a long time looking at their reflection.
  • The men walk in silence, lost in thought. Montag considers their cyclical nature – “a time to break down, and a time to build up.” Then he remembers a passage from the Bible: And on either side of the river was there a tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
  • Montag decides to keep these words in mind, to use them when they get to the city.

(Click the summary infographic to download.)

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