Overall Summary of Entire Novel
Guy Montag is a fireman in charge of burning books. A gentle young girl named Clarisse McClellan opens his eyes to the emptiness of his life with her innocently penetrating questions and peculiar love of people and nature. After his wife, Mildred, attempts suicide without even realizing what she is doing, after he witnesses an old woman let herself be burned with her books, and after he hears that Clarisse has been killed by a speeding car, Montag searches for solutions to his rising dissatisfaction in a stash of books he has stolen and hidden. He looks to Mildred for help and support, but she prefers television to her husband’s company and cannot understand why he would want to take the terrible risk of reading books.
Montag remembers an old intellectual named Faber with whom he once talked in the park and goes to him for help in understanding what he reads. Meanwhile, Beatty, Montag’s superior, has guessed that Montag is experimenting with books and hints that he should turn in the book he stole from the old woman’s library within 24 hours. Faber explains the value of books to Montag, which lies in their ability to store and communicate meaningful information, something that their society now lacks. He agrees to help Montag and gives him a two-way radio that fits into his ear so that he can hear what Montag hears and talks to him secretly. Montag goes home and finds two of his wife’s friends there. Their superficiality angers him, and he shows them a book of poetry and reads them one of the poems. Mildred tries to explain this away as standard fireman procedure for proving to people how useless books are, but the women leave quite disturbed and upset.
Montag goes to the fire station and hands over one of his books to Beatty. Beatty browbeats him with his impressive knowledge of literature and historical quotations, which he uses to support his argument that books are dangerous and must be destroyed. An alarm comes through, and they rush off to Montag’s own house. Mildred rushes out, and Montag realizes it was she who put in the alarm. Beatty forces Montag to burn the house himself, and when he is done, he places him under arrest. Beatty continues to berate Montag, who turns the flamethrower on his superior and proceeds to burn him to ashes. Montag knocks the other firemen unconscious and begins to run, when the Mechanical Hound, a monstrous machine that Beatty has set to attack Montag, appears and pounces. Montag manages to destroy it with his flamethrower, but not before it injects his leg with a large dose of anesthetic. Montag walks off the numbness in his leg and escapes with some books that were hidden in the backyard. He hides these in one of the other firemen’s houses and calls in an alarm from a payphone.
He goes to Faber’s house, where he learns that a new Hound has been put on his trail. Faber tells Montag he is leaving for St. Louis to see a retired printer who may be able to help them, and Montag gives him some money and tells him how to remove his scent from the house so the Hound will not enter it. He takes some of Faber’s old clothes and runs off toward the river. The whole city watches as the chase unfolds on TV, but Montag manages to escape in the river and change into Faber’s clothes to disguise his scent. He drifts downstream into the country and follows a set of abandoned railroad tracks until he finds a group of renegade intellectuals led by a man named Granger who welcome him. They are a part of a nationwide network of book-lovers who have memorized many great works of literature and philosophy. They hope that they may be of some help to mankind in the aftermath of the war that has just been declared. Enemy jets appear in the sky and drop their bombs on the city, which is instantly vaporized. Montag and the others turn and head up the river to see if they can help the survivors, and Montag knows he will soon follow the other refugees out into the countryside, where there will always be plenty to keep him fulfilled.