Guy Montag lives in a futuristic American city where the job of a fireman is to burn books rather than put out fires. In this world, people don’t read books. Neither do they spend any time by themselves, enjoy nature, think in an independent way, or take part in meaningful discussions. Rather, they spend their time driving at high speeds, watching ridiculous amounts of television on enormous TV sets, and listening to transmissions through sets attached to their ears called “Seashell Radio.”
Montag meets Clarisse McClellan, a seventeen-year-old girl with gentle eyes who makes him understand that his life is empty. She does this by innocently posing unnerving questions, as well as by showing her unique love of nature and people. As the next few days pass, Montag goes through a number of different disturbing events. Firstly, Mildred, his wife, tries to commit suicide by swallowing an entire bottle of sleeping pills. After that, when responding to an alarm about an old woman having a stash of forbidden literature, the woman astounds him by opting to be burned along with her books. A few days after this, he finds out that Clarisse has lost her life as a result of being hit by a speeding car. His sense of dissatisfaction with the present state of his life intensifies, and he starts to seek a solution in the books that he has taken from the fires he has set. He has hidden them in an air-conditioning vent.
When Montag doesn’t report for work, Beatty, his fire chief, goes to his house. Beatty says that many firemen experience a phase of wondering if books have anything to offer, and he launches into an overwhelming monologue about how books ended up being banned in the first place. Beatty says that certain special interest groups and other types of “minorities” objected to books with contents that offended them. After a while, all books started to look the same, as writers attempted to avoid causing any kind of offense. This was soon seen to not be enough, however, and society opted to simply burn all books instead of allowing for any kind of conflict in opinions. Beatty says that Montag should devote the next twenty-four hours or so to determining if his stolen books have anything he deems to be worthwhile. After that, he should turn them in to be incinerated. Montag spends a long night reading in a frenzied manner.
Montag feels overwhelmed by all he has to read, and he wishes that his wife would help him. However, she prefers watching television to being in her husband’s company, and she’s unable to understand why he would wish to take the horrible risk involved in reading books. Montag recalls that he once met a man called Faber, a retired English professor, sitting in a park. He thinks that this man could perhaps assist him in understanding the books. He goes to Faber, who explains that the books’ value is found in their detailed understanding of life. Faber states that Montag must not just the books themselves but the time to read them and freedom to act upon things he might learn.
Faber undertakes to assist Montag with his reading, and they set up a risky plan for overthrowing the status quo. Faber will make arrangements to have a printer start reproducing books, and Montag will put books in firemen’s homes to discredit what they do and bring down the machinery of censorship. Faber provides him with a two-way radio earpiece (called the ‘green bullet”) so that he is able to hear everything Montag says and talk to him without anyone knowing.
Montag heads home. After he gets there, two friends of his wife arrive. They are there to watch television. The women talk about their families and the war that will shortly be declared. They discuss these things in a very frivolous way, and Montag becomes angry at their superficiality. He begins reading “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold in a book of poetry. He hears Faber saying that he must be quiet, and Mildred attempts to explain to her friends that the poetry reading is a method for firemen to show how useless literature really is. The women find the poem very disturbing, and they leave so that they can file a complaint against Montag.
Montag heads to the fire station and gives one of the books to Beatty. Beatty makes Montag feel confused by overwhelming him with contradictory quotations taken from great books. Beatty uses these contradictions to demonstrate that literature is dangerous in its complexity, as well as morbid. He wants to show that it deserves to be incinerated. The alarm sounds suddenly, and the men rush to answer the call. They find that it is coming from Montag’s own house. Montag realizes that his wife has betrayed him when he sees her with a suitcase, getting into a cab.
Beatty makes Montag burn down the house himself. After this occurs, Beatty arrests Montag. When Beatty continues in his berating of Montag, Montag attacks his superior with the flamethrower. He burns him until he turns to ashes. Montag knocks down the other firemen and leaving them unconscious, runs. Beatty has set the Mechanical Hound, a terrifying machine, to attack Montag. It pounces on him and injects a large dose of anesthetic into Montag’s leg. Montag is able to destroy the Mechanical Hound with the flamethrower. He then gets rid of the numbness in his leg by walking it off. He escapes, taking some books that were concealed in his backyard. He hides these books in the house of another fireman, and uses a pay phone to call in an alarm.
Montag goes to see Faber at his house. He learns that there has been a new Hound set on his trail, in addition to numerous helicopters and a television crew. Faber informs Montag that he is setting off for St. Louis to meet with a retired printer who may be able to assist them. Montag hands Faber some money and gives him instructions on how to remove Montag’s scent from his home so that the Hound will not come to it. After that, Montag is given some of Faber’s old clothes and he runs away in the direction of the river. The entire city watches as the chase is shown on TV, but Montag is able to escape to the river and put on Faber’s clothes to help hide his scent. He goes downstream into the countryside, following some abandoned railroad tracks. He eventually encounters and is welcomed by a group of renegade intellectuals called “the Book People.” The Book People are led by a man called Granger. They belong to a nationwide network of book enthusiasts who have committed to memory many great works of philosophy and literature. Their hope is that they may offer help to mankind in the aftermath of the war (a war has recently been declared). Montag is told to memorize the Book of Ecclesiastes. Jets from the enemy are in the sky. They entirely destroy the city with bombs. Montag and his new companions continue to move on in search of survivors. They want to rebuild civilization.