Fahrenheit 451 By Ray Bradbury Summary and Analysis Part 3 - Burning Bright

Summary

In this final section of the book, Montag discovers that Millie turned in the fire alarm (though her friends, Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Bowles, earlier lodged a complaint that Beatty ignored). While Beatty seems to regret what he must do to Montag, he taunts Montag in a mean-spirited way and reminds Montag that he has given him many warnings about what could happen.

Finally, in his conversation with Montag, Beatty forces Montag to set fire to his own home. Little does he realize that Montag finds a certain perverse satisfaction in torching the interior of his home — especially the television screens.

Meanwhile, Faber continually urges Montag to escape, but Montag is hesitant because the Mechanical Hound is on the prowl. Montag has also fallen into his former way of thinking as a result of Beatty's verbal assaults and the trauma of what has happened to both himself and his home. While Montag hesitates, Beatty discovers the green bullet in his ear and threatens to track the two-way radio to its source (Faber).

As if motivating Montag to take action against him, Beatty taunts Montag relentlessly. In one quick motion, Montag turns the liquid fire on Captain Beatty, who collapses to the pavement.

After pummeling Stoneman and Black, Montag tries to escape, but the Mechanical Hound stuns him in the leg with its procaine needle. In the span of only a few minutes, Montag becomes a criminal, an enemy of the people. He is now a hunted man, sought by the police and the firemen's salamanders. The police, Montag is sure, with the aid of helicopters, will immediately begin a manhunt. The only friend he can turn to is Faber. Only Faber holds some promise for Montag's survival.

Despite the urgency, Montag rescues some of the books that he hid in his backyard (Millie burned most of them, but she missed a few). On his way to Faber's house, Montag discovers that war has been declared upon his town.

In his journey to Faber's, Montag confronts an unforeseen danger: crossing a boulevard. Because the automobiles travel at such high speeds, crossing the street is extremely dangerous — coupled by the fact that, because such little value is given to a person's life, running over pedestrians is a sport. (Recall that Clarisse was killed by a hit-and-run driver.) In Montag's case, the danger is compounded because he has a crippled leg, deadened with procaine.

Despite the danger, Montag has little choice; he must cross the boulevard in order to reach Faber. He must either risk crossing the boulevard or face certain execution in a matter of minutes. As he's crossing the street, one vehicle focuses on Montag's running figure. A fortuitous stumble allows Montag to escape certain death. Unharmed (except for one-sixteenth of an inch of black tire tread on his middle finger), he travels onward.

Montag makes one stop prior to his arrival at Faber's home. He stops at the home of a fellow fireman — Black's house — and hides the books that he has been carrying in Black's kitchen. Because Black was responsible for burning many other people's homes, Montag reasons that Black should have his own home burned. Thus, Montag activates the plan to frame firemen that he had previously sketched for Faber. He phones in a fire alarm and then waits until the blare of the siren is heard before he continues on to Faber's. Black's house will be burned.

Together, Montag and Faber make their plans for escape. Faber tells Montag to try the river. If he can cross it, he should make his way down the railroad tracks leading out of the city. Once out of the city, he will meet up with one of the many groups of exiles forced to flee to the countryside and find refuge with them. As for himself, Faber plans to catch the early morning bus to St. Louis to get in touch with an old printer friend.

While the two men make their plans, the television announces that a massive manhunt has been organized to track down Montag. Faber and Montag discover that a new Mechanical Hound has been introduced to the search and that the networks intend to participate by televising the chase.

With the news that a second Mechanical Hound was brought to the area, Faber and Montag must take careful, precautionary steps to avoid capture. Montag instructs Faber to burn in the incinerator everything that he (Montag) has touched and then rub everything else down with alcohol. He also suggests that Faber cover the scent with moth spray and then hose off the sidewalk and turn on the lawn sprinklers. In this way, they can confuse the Mechanical Hound's sense of smell and cause him to lose Montag's trail into Faber's house; Faber will remain safe while Montag lures the Hound to the river. Before he leaves, he takes a cardboard suitcase filled with some old clothes of Faber's as well as a bottle of whiskey. Montag makes a run for the river, knowing that the Mechanical Hound is still on his trail as helicopters gather and hover overhead.

Montag finally hobbles to the safety of the river undetected, where he douses himself in whiskey and dresses in Faber's clothes. After discarding the suitcase, he plunges into the river and is swept away. While he travels downstream, the Mechanical Hound loses his scent at the river's edge. Undaunted, however, the police refuse to be denied the capture.

The police can't allow the public to know of their failure to snare Montag, so they enact a hoax: An innocent man is chosen as a victim for the TV cameras. The populace is deceived into thinking that Montag is dead because their wall televisions depict the murder of the suspect Montag. (Note that the population has never seen the real Montag.)

While the chase continues elsewhere, Montag floats in the river toward the far shore and safety. In just a few short days, Montag has become a rebel and an outlaw.

As if seeing the world and nature for the first time, Montag continues his journey on land. Half an hour later, he sees a fire in the black distance where he stumbles upon a group of outcasts.

The leader of these outcasts is Granger, a former author and intellectual. Curiously, Granger seems to have expected Montag and reveals his good will by offering him a vial filled with something that alters Montag's perspiration; after Montag drinks the fluid, the Mechanical Hound can no longer track him.

Granger explains to Montag the nature of the commune and how each member chooses a book and memorizes it. After the entire book has been memorized, he burns it to prevent the individual from being arrested by the authorities. From that time on, the story is transmitted verbally from one generation to another.

Montag confesses to Granger that he once memorized some of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Granger tells him that a man named Harris knows the verses from memory, but if anything ever happens to Harris, Montag will become the book.

When Montag admits the grand failure of his plan to plant books in firemen's houses, Granger replies that the plan may have worked had it been carried out on a national scale. Granger feels, however, that the commune's way of giving life to books through their embodiment in people is the best way to combat the censorship of the government.

Because of war (that could begin at any minute), the commune is forced to move south, farther down the river, away from the city that is a sure target of attack. Jets shriek overhead continually, heading for battle. Although Montag thinks briefly of Millie and of his former life, he is forced back to reality when, in an abrupt finale, the city is destroyed.

Shaken by the destruction of the city, Granger, Montag, and the rest of the commune are compelled to return to the city and lend what help they can.

Analysis

The ironies in this book continue to multiply as Montag discovers that Millie was the one who turned in the fire alarm. In fact, it's interesting to note that as Millie makes her abrupt departure, her worries and concern focus only on her television family and not her husband (Montag). Although Beatty feels some remorse over what will happen to Montag, he continues to ridicule him: "Old Montag wanted to fly near the sun and now that he's burnt his damn wings, he wonders why. Didn't I hint enough when I sent the Hound around your place?" Though one's sympathies are, rightly so, with Montag, Beatty is revealed here as a man torn between duty and conscience, which makes him more of an individual and less a villain, less a straw man. He does not particularly want to arrest Montag for breaking the law and his metaphorical concept of Montag as Icarus further reveals his active imagination and knowledge of (illegal) books.

Yet through sheer maliciousness, Beatty demands that Montag burn his own home. However, note that Montag does not burn the television with remorse — in fact, he takes great pleasure in burning it: "And then he came to the parlor where the great idiot monsters lay asleep with their white thoughts and their snowy dreams. And he shot a bolt at each of the three blank walls and the vacuum hissed out at him." In a strange way, Montag gets his revenge on the television screens that he hates so strongly.

The entire episode has, for Montag, a phantasmagorical quality. He perceives his arrival and the preparations for the burning as a "carnival" being set up. Later, after the destruction of his house and after the spectators disappear, Montag remarks that the incident was as if "the great tents of the circus had slumped into charcoal and rubble and the show was well over." After the burning of his house, Montag is not smiling.

With Faber screaming in his ear to escape, Montag experiences a moment of doubt when Beatty reduces Montag's book knowledge to pretentiousness: "Why don't you belch Shakespeare at me, you fumbling snob? . . . Go ahead now, you secondhand literateur, pull the trigger." With the flamethrower in his hand and, in his mind, the seeming futility of ever correcting the ills of society, Montag decides that fire, after all, is probably the best solution for everything. "We never burned right," he says.

The meaning of Montag's utterance is open to speculation. At first glance, this statement is about passion: If the firemen have to burn books, they should know the subjects of the books and what information they contain. Or possibly, burning shouldn't be done simply as a mindless job that one does out of habit, but should be done out of political and ideological convictions. Given the context, however, Montag says his line with the implication that Beatty was wrong to encourage burning when he, Beatty, knew the value of books.

As he turns the flamethrower on Beatty, who collapses to the pavement like a "charred wax doll," you can note the superb poetic justice in this action. Beatty always preached to Montag that fire was the solution to everyone's problems ("Don't face a problem, burn it," Beatty told him) and Beatty, himself, is burned as a solution to Montag's problem. Note once again, that in describing Beatty's death, Bradbury uses the image of a wax doll. The imagery of the wax doll is thus used in Fahrenheit 451 to describe both Beatty and Millie. By using this comparison, Bradbury shows that Beatty and Millie do not appear to be living things; they fit the mold made by a dystopian society. As a result, Beatty is charred and destroyed by the fire that gave purpose and direction to his own life.

Although Montag, who is now a fugitive, feels justified in his actions, he curses himself for taking these violent actions to such an extreme. His discontent shows that he is not a vicious killer, but a man with a conscience.

While Montag stumbles down the alley, a sudden and awesome recognition stops him cold in his tracks: "In the middle of the crying Montag knew it for the truth. Beatty had wanted to die. He had just stood there, not really trying to save himself, just stood there, joking, needling, thought Montag, and the thought was enough to stifle his sobbing and let him pause for air." Instantly, the reader and Montag understand Beatty in a much different light. Montag suddenly sees that, although he always assumed that all firemen were happy, he has no right to make this assumption any longer. Although Beatty seemed the most severe critic of books, he, in fact, thought that outlawing individual thinking and putting a premium on conformity stifled a society. Beatty was a man who understood his own compromised morality and who privately admired the conviction of people like Montag.

In a strange way, Beatty wanted to commit suicide but was evidently too cowardly to carry it out. Bradbury illustrates the general unhappiness and despondency of certain members of society three times before Beatty's incident: Millie's near-suicide with the overdose of sleeping pills; the oblique reference to the fireman in Seattle, who "purposely set a Mechanical Hound to his own chemical complex and let it loose"; and the unidentified woman who chose immolation along with her books. People in Montag's society are simply not happy. Their desire for death reflects a social malaise of meaningless and purposelessness.

When war is finally declared, the hint of doom, which has been looming on the horizon during the entire novel, now reaches a climax. This new development serves as another parallel to the situation in which Montag finds himself. Montag sees his former life fall apart as the city around him faces a battle in which it will also be destroyed.

As Montag runs, his wounded leg feels like a "chunk of burnt pine log" that he is forced to carry "as a penance for some obscure sin." Again, the imagery of fire is used to suggest purification. The penance Montag must pay is the result of all his years of destruction as a fireman. Even though the pain in his leg is excruciating, he must overcome even more daunting obstacles before he achieves redemption.

Unexpectedly, the seemingly simple task of crossing the boulevard proves to be his next obstacle. The "beetles" travel at such high speeds that they are likened to bullets fired from invisible rifles. Bradbury enlists fire imagery to describe these beetles: Their headlights seem to burn Montag's cheeks, and as one of their lights bears down on him, it seems like "a torch hurtling upon him."

After Montag and Faber make their plans for escape, the reader witnesses Faber's devotion to the plans that he and Montag have made. In choosing to flee to St. Louis to find an old printer friend, Faber also places his life in jeopardy to ensure the immortality of books.

Montag imagines his manhunt as a "game," then as a "circus" that "must go on," and finally as a "one-man carnival." Montag's thoughts, however, do not mean that he imagines it as something silly or playful, but instead, in his community, he considers everyday experience to be a spectacle.

When Montag escapes to the river, the imagery of water, a traditional symbol of regeneration and renewal (and, for Carl Jung, transformation), coupled with Montag's dressing in Faber's clothes, suggests that Montag's tale of transformation is complete. He has shed his past life and is now a new person with a new meaning in life.

His time spent in the water, accompanied by the escape from the city, serves as an epiphany for Montag's spirit: "For the first time in a dozen years [that is, since he became a fireman] the stars were coming out above him, in great processions of wheeling fire." The escape allows Montag — again, for the first time in years — to think. He thinks about his dual roles as man and fireman. "After a long time of floating on the land and a short time of floating in the river," the reader is told, "he knew why he must never burn again in his life." Only human beings are capable of making choices (and, hence, are capable of being moral), and his moral choice is to cease burning.

While floating in the river, Montag suddenly realizes the change that has taken place: "He felt as if he had left a stage behind him and many actors. . . He was moving from an unreality that was frightening into a reality that was unreal because it was new." Montag recognizes that many people, including himself and Beatty, were forced to play an assigned role in their lives. The stage imagery implies that Montag actually realized that he was merely acting for a long period of his life, and that he is now entering into an entirely new stage of life.

Montag emerges from the river transformed. Now in the country, his first tangible sensation — "the dry smell of hay blowing from some distant field" — stirs strong melancholic emotions. Though Montag may be a man who has trouble articulating his feelings, one learns that he is a man of deep emotions. The entire episode of him leaving the river and entering the countryside is evocative of a spiritual transformation. He has sad thoughts of Millie, who is somewhere back in the city, and has a sensuous fantasy of Clarisse; both of which are now associated with the city and a life that he no longer lives, to which he can never return.

Whereas the city was metaphorically associated with a stifling and oppressive technology, the countryside is a place of unbounded possibility, which at first terrifies Montag: "He was crushed by darkness and the look of the country and the million odors on a wind that iced the body." In his earlier life, recall that Montag could smell only kerosene, which was "nothing but perfume" to him. The forest into which he stumbles is rampant with life; he imagines "a billion leaves on the land" and is overcome by the natural odors that confront him.

To underscore the strangeness of this new environment, Bradbury makes Montag stumble across a railroad track that had, for Montag, "a familiarity." He is, ironically, more familiar with an environment composed of concrete and steel than he is with grass and trees. Because he is most familiar (and comfortable) with something associated with urban life (the railroad tracks), Montag remembers that Faber told him to follow them — "the single familiar thing, the magic charm he might need a little while, to touch, to feel beneath his feet" — as he moves on.

When he sees the fire in the distance, the reader sees the profound change that Montag has undergone. Montag sees the fire as "strange," because "It was burning, it was warming." This fire doesn't destroy but heals, and by doing so, it draws Montag to the company of his fellow outcasts, book burners of a different sort.

Curiously, Granger was expecting Montag, and when he offers him "a small bottle of colorless fluid," Montag takes his final step toward transformation. Not only is Montag garbed in clothes that are not his, but the chemical that Granger offers him changes his perspiration. Literally, Montag becomes a different man.

When Montag expresses his prior knowledge of the Book of Ecclesiastes, Granger is happy to tell Montag of his new purpose in life: Montag will become that book. Not only does Montag learn the value of a book, but he also learns that he can "become the book."

Talking with Granger and the others around the fire, Montag gains a sense of warmth and personal well-being and recovers a sense of faith in the future. He begins gaining an understanding of the fire of spirit, life, and immortality, as well as forgetting the fire that destroys. Notice that when the campfire is no longer necessary, every man lends a hand to help put it out. ("We are model citizens, in our own special way," Granger says.) This action is further proof of the things that Granger has been telling Montag: Group effort is necessary if a positive goal is ever to be reached.

When the commune moves south (due to the war threat), Montag associates Millie with the city, but he admits to Granger that, strangely, he doesn't "feel much of anything" for her. That part of his life, as well as everything relating to the city, seems distant and unreal. He feels sorry for her because he intuitively knows that she will probably be killed in the war. He is also ashamed, because in all their years together, he was able to offer her nothing.

As the city is destroyed ("as quick as the whisper of a scythe the war was finished"), Montag's thoughts return to Millie. He imagines how the last moments of her life must have been. He pictures her looking at her wall television set. Suddenly, the television screen goes blank, and Millie is left seeing only a mirror image of herself. Montag imagines that just before her death, Millie finally sees and knows for herself how superficial and empty her life has been. And, in that instant, Montag recalls when he met her: "A long time ago" in Chicago. His former life seems like only a dream.

A new day begins, and a fire providing the commune warmth and heat for cooking is made. Granger looks into the fire and realizes its life-giving quality as he utters the word "phoenix." The phoenix, he says, was "a silly damn bird" that "every few hundred years" built a pyre "and burned himself up." Granger imagines the bird as "first cousin to Man" because the bird continually went through rebirth only to destroy himself again. The mythology of fire surrounding this ancient bird is strategic to the lessons of Fahrenheit 451.

Bradbury alludes to the phoenix repeatedly in the novel. The firemen wear an emblem of the phoenix on their chests; Beatty wears the sign of the phoenix on his hat and drives a phoenix car. When Beatty is burned to death, his death by fire prepares for a rebirth that the phoenix sign traditionally symbolizes. Montag's destruction of Beatty ultimately results in his escape from the city and his meeting with Granger. All of these actions lead to a rebirth of a new and vital life. Montag's new life is filled with hope and the promise of a new era of humanism, depicted in the words that Montag recalls from the Bible: "To everything there is a season. A time to break down, a time to build up."

With Granger leading the way, the commune heads toward the city to help those who may need them. It is a curious moment, but characteristic of Bradbury. In his novel The Martian Chronicles, for example, people flee the Earth and head for Mars because they are sure that Earth is going to be destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. However, when the transplanted Earth people hear that the holocaust has occurred, they return to Earth immediately because they know that it no longer exists as they remember it. This movement is repeated at the conclusion of Fahrenheit 451. Montag flees the city only to return after its destruction. Although altruistically compelled to lend aid to the survivors (of which there were very few), Montag (and the others) seems to have some ritualistic need to return to the city from which they escaped. Even though they escaped the city for political reasons, its familiarity nonetheless remains psychologically comforting. The implication is that, in the death of someone or something that you fiercely hate, you also loose an essential part of your identity.

Fahrenheit 451 is explicit in its warnings and moral lessons aimed at the present. Bradbury believes that human social organization can easily become oppressive and regimented unless it changes its present course of suppression of an individual's innate rights through censorship. The degenerated future depicted in Fahrenheit 451 represents the culmination of dangerous tendencies that are submerged in your own society. At the very least, the book asserts that the freedom of imagination is a corollary of individual freedom.

The title that Bradbury gives to Part Three alludes to William Blake's poem "The Tyger." Many interpret this poem, from Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, as a meditation about the origin of evil in the world. The first four lines of the poem are:

Tyger, Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In Blake's poem, the tiger is often considered a symbol for a world in which evil is at work; it speaks also of the dual nature of all existence. Appropriately, Part Three's title, "Burning Bright," serves a dual function: It summarizes the situation at the conclusion of the book. Even while the city burns brightly from the war's destruction, the spirit of the commune also brightly burns, signifying a future of hope and optimism.

Glossary

Burning Bright the heading derives from "The Tyger," a poem by William Blake.

Icarus the son of Daedalus; escaping from Crete by flying with wings made of Daedalus, Icarus flies so high that the sun's heat melts the wax by which his wings are fastened, and he falls to his death in the sea. Beatty alludes to Icarus with the comment: "Old Montag wanted to fly near the sun and now that he's burnt his damn wings, he wonders why."

You think you can walk on water Beatty alludes to Jesus walking on water, as recorded in Mark 6:45-51.

There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats, for I am arm'd so strong in honesty that they pass by me as an idle wind, which I respect not Beattytaunts Montag with a passage from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Act IV, Scene iii, Line 66.

there's lots of old Harvard degrees on the tracks Faber refers to the educated people who have dropped out of sight to live the hobo life outside the city.

Keystone Comedy from 1914 to 1920, director Mack Sennett and Keystone Studios produced a series of madcap silent film comedies featuring the Keystone Cops.

the guild of the asbestos-weaver Montag associates his desire to stop the burning with the formation of a new trade union. Like the guilds of the Middle Ages, the asbestos-weavers symbolize progress against the tyranny of the past.

coat of a thousand colors Granger alludes to Joseph, the character in Genesis 37:3-4 who receives a long-sleeved, ornamental coat of many colors from Jacob, his doting father. The coat, symbolizing favoritism shown by Jacob toward his son, alienates the other sons, who sell their brother to passing traders, stain the coat with goat's blood, and return it to their father to prove that a wild animal has eaten Joseph.

crying in the wilderness Granger compares his group's minority status to John the Baptist, the prophet whom Isaiah predicted would one day announce the coming of the Messiah (Isaiah 40: 3-5).

V-2 rocket the German's use of the first long-range, liquid-fuel missile carrying a ton of explosives during World War II changed the face of modern warfare.

atom-bomb mushroom on August 6, 1945, over Hiroshima, Japan, American pilots dropped the first atomic bomb used in the war. The explosion, which rose in a straight column two hundred miles high, ballooned outward like a huge mushroom.

I hate a Roman named Status Quo! Granger's grandfather made a pun out of the Latin phrase, which means the situation as it now exists.

whisper of a scythe an extended metaphor begins with a giant hand sowing the grains of bombs over the land. The image concludes with the death-dealing scythe, the symbol carried in the hand of Father Time, an image of death, which cuts down life in a single, silent sweep.

To everything there is a season Montag recalls an often-quoted segment of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, which reminds him that there is a time for dying as well as a time for living.

And on either side of the river was there a tree of life, which bore twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations a prophecy from verse two of Revelation 22, the last book in the Bible.

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