Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Chapter 1, Part 3 (pages 30-65) Summary

The Hearth and the Salamander

At the firehouse, Beatty, Montag, and the other firemen are playing cards when Beatty says, "Your play, Montag" (30). Montag speaks, tentatively, about his changing ideas for the first time, and encounters open suspicion from Beatty. Montag also thinks about an old man he'd met in a park before the start of the story, which is the first information provided about Professor Faber. Stoneman and Black, two firemen, read from their rulebooks, highlighting that the history of firefighting has been altered from what is true.

Montag heads to the second fire in the novel. Because the owner of the house has not been removed by the police as usual, Montag is forced to reconsider his feelings about burning down houses (and their hidden libraries). During the commotion, Montag is caught in a shower of books and magazines and he impulsively steals one. The owner of the house refuses to leave and even strikes the match that sets her and her books ablaze. While returning to the firehouse, Beatty reveals a surprising knowledge of books. He says this is a common trait of fire captains.

Back at home after the fire, Montag hides the book under his pillow, concealing it from his wife. He feels distant from her; neither of them can even remember how they met. The emptiness of their shared life brings him to tears. Montag identifies meaningless entertainment media and her distracted lifestyle as the source of their divide.

With great effort, Montag gains Mildred's attention long enough to bring up the subject of Clarisse McClellan and learns she was killed and that Mildred would've told him sooner, but she'd forgotten. Montag thinks he hears the Hound outside. The next morning, Montag argues with Mildred, trying to get her to call in sick for him, but she refuses. Montag tries to explain his revelation to Mildred: books must have value if the woman was willing to die for them. He realizes behind each book is a person—one of the themes of the novel.

When Montag is late for his shift, Beatty arrives at his home, and he already knows the why Montag hasn't shown up. Beatty has seen this behavior before, and tells Montag to take the night off. Beatty then reveals that a growing population meant books and magazines had to be "leveled down to a sort of paste pudding norm" (51) to keep from offending various groups of people. He tells Montag books weren't initially banned; people simply lost interest in them, and came to fear the creative types and intellectuals. Fireproofed houses led to firemen being given their current jobs.

While Beatty is talking to Montag (who is still in bed), Mildred discovers the book under the pillow. She says nothing and Beatty ends his diatribe insisting that people are better off being entertained and distracted than being observant and inquisitive. Before he leaves, Beatty gives Montag implied permission to read the stolen book for one night and then burn it himself, adding that they'll come and burn it for him if need be.

Once alone with Mildred, Montag reveals his collection of hidden books. He convinces her to look at them with him, and together try to understand them. He promises they can also burn them together if the books are of no use. "The Hearth and the Salamander" ends with Montag reading aloud to Mildred, trying desperately to understand what is written.

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