Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury
Contributed by Ariane Heyne
Section 3

From the first scene in the fire station through burning the old woman on Elm Street

Montag sees the Mechanical Hound at the fire station. He tries to touch it, and it growls. Montag informs Captain Beatty of this, and suggests that perhaps someone could have set the Hound to react to him in that way. He thinks this is the case as it’s happened two other times. Montag ponders aloud what thoughts are in the Hound’s head and feels pity for it. Beatty asserts that it thinks only what it is told, and that this consists of hunting, killing, and similar activities. Montag’s fellow firemen tease him about what he said about the Hound. One fireman recounts a story about a fireman living in Seattle who killed himself by setting a Hound to hunt his own chemical complex. Beatty says that no one would have set the Hound on Montag, and he assures him that he’ll have the Hound checked over. During the next week, Montag comes across Clarisse outdoors. He speaks with her every day. She asks why he doesn’t have children and says that she stopped attending school because it was too routine and mindless. He doesn’t see Clarisse on the eighth day. He begins to turn around to look for her, but his train comes and he goes to work. When at the firehouse, he asks Beatty what was done with the man whose books they had burned the previous week. Beatty declares that he was brought to the insane asylum. Montag ponders aloud what it might have been like to be in that man’s place. He almost lets out that he took a look at the opening line of a book of fairy tales before it was burned.

He asks whether the fireman’s job was ever to prevent and put out fires. Two fellow firemen consult their rule books and show him the passage where it says that Benjamin Franklin established the Firemen of America in 1790 to burn books influenced by the English. The alarm sounds, and everyone goes to an old and decaying house where books are concealed in the attic. They push an elderly woman aside in order to reach them. One of the books falls on Montag’s head, and he impulsively hides it under his coat. Even after kerosene has been sprayed on the books, the woman will not go. Beatty begins to light the fire, and Montag tries to make the woman leave. She refuses. Once Montag has left, the lady strikes a match and causes the entire house and herself to go up in flames. The ride back to the fire station is oddly quiet.


The paradoxical theme of being alive but not Living is present in the Mechanical Hound. In a similar way to Mildred and the Snake machine that pumps the contents of her stomach, the Hound is both like and entirely dissimilar from a living thing. The fact that the Hound is made of metal and has eight legs as well as a needle in its muzzle that comes out and administers lethal amounts of anesthetic makes it radically different than a real dog. The potential that the Hound may have been deliberately set to be hostile to Montag is foreshadowing of trouble arising from having an enemy at the fire station. Montag’s interaction with Beatty also has this foreshadowing function. Beatty appears to suspect that there is something that has changed about Montag. Montag has a vague feeling of guilt around Beatty. However, he doesn’t know where this feeling comes from.

Montag starts to feel alienated from his fellow firemen in this section. He suddenly comes to the realization that the other fireman have his exact appearance, with the same physique, uniform, and artificial smile. All of this is just a physical manifestation of the reality that society calls for everyone to think and act in exactly the same way. Montag used to make bets with the other firemen and release animals that the Hound could catch and kill. Now, however, he spends his time in his upstairs bunk, listening. He starts to question realities that none of the others would ever even think of doubting. He wonders why the alarms always occur at night, and whether this is only because fire has a prettier appearance in the dark. This way of explaining the situation seems to make sense, as the society in which Montag lives is obsessed with superficial appearances. Also, book burning is seen as a type of entertainment. When the old woman is discovered to still be in her house at the time of the burning, Montag demonstrates that he is able to feel compassion and empathy. This is extremely rare in this society. Firstly, he feels very uncomfortable, as he generally only has to interact with lifeless books rather than living people. This helps to avoid human emotion becoming an element. Then, while it seems that the other men are also uncomfortable and try to ward off the silent accusation of her presence with louder talking and activity, Montag attempts to make her leave, to prevent her from dying.

We see Beatty’s character gain in complexity as he talks to the woman. He goes through his reasons for burning books, claiming that no one book agrees with another and that many of them are just subversive lies told about people who never actually existed. As books present thousands of different opinions, Beatty compares them to the Tower of Babel, the structure described in the Christian bible that led to the universal human language breaking into thousands of different voices. Beatty realizes that the old woman’s comment when the firemen arrived was really a quotation of what Hugh Latimer said to Nicholas Ridley, when the two of them were going to be burned at the stake for being heretics in sixteenth-century England. This is first time we start to understand that Beatty has an extensive knowledge of literature.

The issue of individual agency again becomes prominent when Montag steals the book. He believes that his crime was automatic as it involved no thought on his end. It seems that his hands carried out the crime by themselves. The thoughtlessness of Montag’s actions bring to mind Mildred’s unconscious overdose. Both actions were results of a deep-seated feeling of dissatisfaction that Mildred and Montag do not acknowledge consciously.

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