Part 1 (I)
Part One: The Hearth and the Salamander (I)
The book opens in a scene of burning. A man named Guy Montag is in the midst of an inferno: fire and ash swirl through the air. Montag himself is thinking about how much he loves to see things burn, and likes to see them "changed" by fire. We realize that something strange is going on: Montag, is wearing on his head a helmet marked "451," and is setting fire to a house with a hose full of kerosene instead of water -- like a fireman in reverse. Moreover, out on the lawn, piles of books which have been taken out of the house are burning into ashes, their pages flapping like the wings of pigeons. What is going on here?
The mysterious Montag is grinning to himself with pleasure, as he thinks about fire, and the power of burning. He returns to "the firehouse" -- the station where he works. There, he changes out of his fireproof helmet and jacket. He leaves on his shirt, which is marked with the symbols of a salamander and phoenix (ancient symbols of fire) and the numerals "451" on the sleeve.
Montag leaves the station and catches a futuristic, air-powered train out to the suburb where he lives. It is night, and the streets are empty. As he turns the corner leading to his house, though, he remembers that for the past few nights he's had the feeling that someone has been waiting here for him. Tonight, he suddenly sees this person -- it's a young girl, walking down the sidewalk in the moonlight. She has a pale face with large dark eyes, and as she turns toward him she makes a striking impression on Montag.
The girl greets him, saying, in a strange tone of voice: "You must be the fireman." Montag laughs, and says he is. The girl introduces herself as Clarisse McClellan, a new neighbor. Together, they walk together back toward Montag's house. Clarisse tells him about herself: She's seventeen years old, and everyone thinks she's crazy, because she does things like walk around all night and stay up to watch the sunrise.
Clarisse asks Montag about his job, and we begin to understand more about the world these two people live in. Montag has been "a fireman" for ten years, and is now thirty years old. But in this version of the future, firemen don't put out fires. Instead, they start them: Their job is to burn down houses which are full of books, because in this world, books are illegal. Everybody is taught that firemen have always started fires -- that there was never been a time when they put them out instead. When Clarisse asks if Montag has ever read any of the books before he burns them, he laughs and reminds her that's against the law. "Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner," he says. "Burn 'em into ashes, then burn the ashes. That's our official slogan."
Clarisse tells Montag what she thinks about the way people live in the modern world. She thinks people live too quickly -- they drive instead of walking, and no one pays enough attention to the natural world to know that there's a man in the moon. She adds that she talks with her uncle and family about these things all the time. Montag laughs uneasily, and Clarisse adds that she thinks Montag is answering her too quickly. She says he does not stop to think about the questions she asks him.
The things Clarisse says begin to make Montag uncomfortable and even angry. By the time he leaves her at the door of her house -- where all the lights in the windows are on, because her family is sitting up and talking -- Clarisse's questions have made him restless and doubtful, and he doesn't know why. Just before Clarisse runs up her driveway, she suddenly turns to him and asks him: "Are you happy?" Montag, startled, can't think of an answer before she disappears into the house.
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