Study Guide

Fahrenheit 451 Part Two: The Sieve and the Sand

By Ray Bradbury

Part Two: The Sieve and the Sand

  • The Montags read all afternoon. Montag is caught by one passage in particular, from an 18th century British writer named Samuel Johnson: "We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over."
  • He listens to the rain outside and wonders if that applies to Clarisse. All these books point to her, he thinks.
  • Mildred has found a line she identifies with, from British biographer James Boswell: “That favourite subject, Myself.”
  • There is scratching at the front door; it’s the Mechanical Hound.
  • Mildred rails against books because they aren’t people. Her TV shows, now those have people, she says.
  • Suddenly, Mildred gets nervous and upset at the prospect of Beatty coming back, finding the books, and burning them. WHY should they do this, she asks?
  • Montag flips out in return. He starts talking about the machines that pumped her stomach after her suicide attempt, and Clarisse’s disappearance. They hear the sound of jet bombers going by overhead and he rants a bit about the two atomic wars their country has started since 1990. Maybe the books can help with our ignorance, he says.
  • The phone rings and Mildred blabs on the phone with one of her friends about the TV shows for the day. Meanwhile, Montag wonders where he can find someone to teach him what he knows about books. His thoughts run to an old man in a black coat whom he once saw in a park, hiding something in his coat.
  • The man’s name was Faber and he was a retired English professor. He spoke in cadence, and Montag suspected he had a book of poetry hidden in his coat. When Montag revealed he was a fireman, Faber handed him a slip of paper with his address on it, in case Montag decided to turn him in.
  • Montag opens up his file of “Future Investigations” and indeed finds Faber’s name in there. With it is Faber’s phone number, which he dials.
  • Over the phone, Montag asks how many copies of the Bible are left. Faber is wary of a trap and refuses to say much on the phone; he only repeats that there aren’t any and hangs up.
  • Back in the hallway with Mildred, Montag shows her a copy of the Bible and explains that it may be the last copy in the world. She doesn’t care.
  • He imagines what Beatty would say, that burning a book is beautiful, that all the false promises were being destroyed when they did their jobs.
  • Montag leaves, explaining to his wife that he has to have a copy of the Bible made before the books are burned. She wants to know if he’ll be back in time for a TV show that night.
  • He stops and asks Mildred if her “family” on the TV loves her. It’s a silly question, she says, and doesn’t answer. Montag leaves.
  • On the subway, Montag feels numb. He feels as though someone has stolen his smiling veneer. He remembers trying to fill a sieve with sand on the beach as a child, and feels as though the same thing is happening now as he reads the Bible and tries to memorize its passages.
  • While he reads, an advertisement for toothpaste distracts him, making it impossible to remember any of the Bible.
  • He gets off the subway and knocks on Faber’s door. Faber is paranoid but, after a brief bout of protest, opens the door to Montag.
  • Faber is amazed at the Bible and calls Montag brave, but Montag refuses the label, insisting that Faber is the only one who can help him.
  • Faber handles the Bible and remarks that these days, Christ has been made into another figure on the TV. He also misses the smell of old books. He condemns himself for being a coward, for not stopping the book-burning when it all started.
  • Montag declares that he can’t talk to anyone and needs Faber to teach him to understand what he’s reading.
  • Faber insists that what Montag is looking for isn’t books; books are just a receptacle for knowledge. Montag is missing three important pieces of information, he says. One, books are so feared because they record life. Two, people need to have leisure time – not time for sports or recreation, but time to think. Three, we need the right to use what we learn from the first two to change the way we act.

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  • Montag is all fired up and wants to steal books and print copies of them in cahoots with Faber. But Faber is more skeptical and realistic. The only way he’d participate in any such rebellious behavior is if the fireman structure itself were destroyed.
  • Books are there, says Faber, to remind us that we are fools. Everything he needs to know is in the world around them, but it is books that illuminate that wisdom.
  • He jokingly suggests that they plant books in all the fireman’s houses, so that they will burn themselves up. Montag takes him seriously and thinks this is a swell plan.
  • He asks if there are others that are like Faber. Yes, Faber answers, lots of professors and actors who are no longer allowed to think or read.
  • But he reminds Montag that it won’t be easy; firemen aren’t that necessary since no one wants to read anymore anyway. They’re having fun without books.
  • Before he is sent away, Montag offers Faber the Bible, which he would gladly accept. But then Montag starts tearing up the pages. He stops only when Faber agrees to teach him.
  • Faber asks Montag if he has money; he does, a few hundred dollars. Faber reports that he knows an unemployed ex-printer…
  • Then Montag’s thoughts turn to Beatty who, despite being the Fire Captain, seems to know a good amount of literature by heart. He asks if Faber can offer any help in dealing with him.
  • Faber then leads Montag to a back room of his house and hands him a small object that looks like the Seashell transmitter Mildred wears to bed. When Montag puts it in his ear, he can hear Faber’s voice through it. It’s referred to as a “green bullet.”
  • Faber considers himself a coward for speaking only through the two-way radio instead of taking action himself. He says good night and commits to speaking to his ex-printer friend.
  • Montag walks back home and feels the impending war in the sky above him. He hears reports of the war over the radio, but through his ear, Faber reports that the news is wrong: they say a million men have been mobilized, but it’s actually ten million.
  • Montag is concerned that, with Faber literally inside his head and all, he won’t be able to think for himself anymore. Faber comments that this is a wise observation on his part. He also offers to read Montag to sleep every night.
  • That night at home, Mildred is entertaining friends – Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Bowles. The women are, of course, engaged in some sort of TV-related activity in the parlour room. Montag is irritated, but Faber’s voice whispers for him to have patience.
  • Mrs. Phelps discusses the quick, forty-eight hour war in progress – that’s where her husband is at the moment. She’s not worried, though, since it’s always somebody else’s husband that dies. Plus, she and her husband have an agreement to not cry and get married again right away should one of them kick the bucket.
  • Looking at these women, Montag is reminded of having entered a church as a child and encountered statues of saints which he couldn’t understand.
  • He feels the need to make conversation and asks Mrs. Phelps about her children. She doesn’t have any, she says – no one in his right mind would.
  • Mrs. Bowles disagrees. She has children, but they’re away at school nine days out of ten, so fortunately she doesn’t have to see them too often.
  • As they discuss the most recent election, it becomes clear that it was fixed. One of the candidates was called Mr. Noble and was incredibly attractive. The other was small and ugly and belonged to a political party called “the Outs.”
  • Distraught, Montag runs out of the room and comes back with a book of poetry. He also starts ranting to Faber about how monstrous these women are, which makes him look just a wee bit out of it.
  • Faber pleads with him to stop, but Mrs. Phelps says sure, why not hear some poetry?
  • Mildred, desperate to cover up the situation, explains that every fireman is allowed to bring home one book, simply to prove that books should be burned.
  • Whatever. Montag clears his throat and begins reading Dover Beach.
  • Several lines later, Mrs. Phelps starts crying. They ask her what’s wrong, but she doesn’t know. Mrs. Bowles takes the opportunity to yell at Montag. This, she says, proves that books are bad. She calls Montag “nasty” and asks why he wants to hurt other people this way.
  • Again, Mildred tries to patch things up by suggesting that they watch TV, but Mrs. Bowles is already on her way out the door. Montag yells at her to go, adding insult to, well, insult by mentioning all the abortions she’s had and the children who hate her.
  • Faber, meanwhile, is still calling Montag a fool through the earpiece, which Montag rips out and stuffs in his pocket.
  • Montag finds the rest of his book stash, which has diminished: Mildred has begun scattering them throughout the house. In the meantime, he hides what’s left in the bushes behind his house.
  • As Montag walks back through his house, Mildred is nowhere to be seen. He takes solace in the fact of Faber’s new place in his life – he feels he will learn from this man, leave behind the old Montag, and become someone newer, wiser.
  • Indeed, Faber comforts him over the earpiece. He tells Montag to be patient, that he can’t expect to change the opinions of women like Mrs. Phelps. He warns Montag not to do anything rash around Beatty, but to let Faber feel out the situation over the earpiece.
  • On his way to the firehouse, though, Montag panics. He can’t move his feet, he says. But with Faber’s coaxing he is able to continue into the firehouse.
  • When Montag enters, the hound is not in its kennel and the men are, as usual, playing cards with Beatty.
  • Montag takes a seat and joins the game, but feels as though his hands are guilty of crimes. He tries to leave them under the table, but Beatty commands that he show his hand (they’re playing cards after all).
  • Then Beatty starts quoting literary passages at Montag. His quotations are contradictory, and often from the same author. He continues, trying to confuse Montag and prove that literature is complicated and destructively confusing.
  • Faber warns Montag not to rise to the challenge, to stay quiet. Montag seems to be having a silent panic attack – Beatty even grabs his wrist and is awed by his racing pulse.
  • Beatty continues, claiming that books are traitors. For every time they help you build your case, make your argument, they simultaneously cut you down, prove you wrong.
  • When he’s done, Faber whispers that Montag must later listen to his side of things, and decide for himself with whom he agrees – the Captain or Faber.
  • The alarm bell rings. Beatty says that it is a “special case” as they head out down the pole.

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  • On the way, Montag reflects on his trying to convert Mildred’s friends. It seems so silly to him now, like trying to put out a fire with water pistols, he thinks.
  • Beatty drives tonight, which he has never done before. (Uh-oh.)
  • He declares they’re going to keep the world happy, and Montag wonders if he can ever burn anything again, given all that he’s learned in the last day.
  • Then they arrive at Montag’s house.
  • Oh.

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