Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Chapter 1, Part 1 (pages 1-21) Analysis

The Hearth and the Salamander

Montag's story begins when he meets Clarisse. Even though he started collecting books illegally before he encounters her, she starts him really questioning himself and the society in which he lives, and it is this questioning that leads to his fundamental change. The opening sentence hints at his transformation, "It was a pleasure to burn" (1). Once Montag begins examining the world in a similar manner to Clarisse, that pleasure rapidly disappears.

Mildred is arguably a foil to Clarisse, who is her direct opposite. A foil is the literary technique of creating a character to contrast another character, making them both stand out more (like complimentary colors do in visual art). Bradbury continually presents Clarisse with images of nature—walking in the rain, gathering leaves, talking about the moon, etc. She is inquisitive and interested in what Montag has to say. Clarisse is also considered odd, rebellious, and even dangerous by most people. Mildred, however, is constantly in the house, disconnected from the natural world (ironically, she uses "seashells"—tiny radios in her ears—as one means of tuning out the world, and seashells are something generally associated with nature.) She represents the majority of the American culture in the world of the novel in that she needs constant, mindless entertainment. This desire for distraction from introspection arises because people, like Mildred, are so emotionally/spiritually empty they become self-destructive—evidenced in this section by her unconscious overdosing on pills. Even Montag lets "a sleep lozenge dissolve on his tongue" (15) after Mildred nearly dies from the same medication. These themes will become clearer as they are further developed throughout the work.

Finally, the jet bombers appear right when Montag feels like screaming about Mildred. Bradbury frequently uses counting images in this novel—passages like the ones on pages 11 and 15 that most likely relate back to the Boswell quote at the beginning of "The Sieve and the Sand" (67)—and employs the technique here to show the build-up of violence and foreshadow the inevitability of war. Notice also that the count on page 11 resembles a marching cadence: "The jet bombers going over…one two, one two, one two, one two". See the "Important Quotes" section for further reference.