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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
From all outward appearances, Guy Montag is content in his job as a fireman in the 24th century town in which he lives. He has learned to accept that his society is dictatorial, expressly forbidding its citizens from reading or possessing books or seeking any other intellectual self-improvement. Montag has even learned to take pleasure in the flames that shoot from his igniter when he is called to burn the dwelling of the citizens that possess books or commit other crimes against the society. He is successful in distancing himself from the fact that his purpose in life is to destroy other peoples' property.
The novel opens on a typical day for Montag, the protagonist of the novel; he finishes work and heads toward home. On the way, he runs into his teenage neighbor, Clarisse McClellan, who lives in the house next door to him. In the futuristic world in which she lives, Clarisse is judged to be peculiar, for she is strangely old- fashioned. She is interested in the way flowers smell and how the grass feels under her feet. She is seeing a psychiatrist because of her non-conformist interests. As she talks to Montag, Clarisse challenges him by asking, "Are you happy?" This simple question is Montag's catalyst for change and causes everything that follows in the novel.
Without eagerness, Montag goes home to Millie, his wife. There is never any affection between them; in fact, they seldom even notice one another. On this particular night, as bombers fly overhead to foreshadow impending war, Montag discovers Millie has taken an overdose, which is a common occurrence in the town. He calmly calls the suicide orderlies, who are always standing by to come to the rescue of those who attempt to kill themselves. With little effort, they save Millie's life. The distance between Millie and Montag deepens the next day when he tries to talk to her about her actions. She claims not to remember what she has done and returns to her interactive television, totally ignoring him.
Over the next several weeks, Clarisse and Montag develop a friendly relationship. They talk about ideas and thoughts in a way that no one in this society seems to do anymore. Because of Clarisse's influence, Montag grows more concerned about his own life. Then one day, Clarisse disappears and Montag is troubled. Work troubles him even more, for he must participate in burning an old woman's home. Refusing to leave her books and her belongings, she lights her own fire and stays inside, dying a martyr. Montag is moved by the woman's bravery and sees it as a symbol of what is wrong with society. Almost in protest, he steals a book from the woman's house.
Back at home, Montag learns that Clarisse has been killed; her death upsets him greatly. He tries to talk to his wife about books and ideas and what is wrong with society, but she is not interested. The next day, Montag calls in sick to work, for he has lost all interest in his former life. His boss, Beatty, comes to his home and warns him that sometimes firemen go through phases when they steal books; he reminds Montag if they do not return the books within twenty-four hours, they will be arrested and all their belongings burned. Montag thinks he should get rid of the books he has stolen, including the one from the old woman's house.
After Beatty leaves, Montag shows the old woman's book to his wife; he also shows her some twenty others he has apparently stolen over the years. Millie is terrified and refuses to deal with the situation. In frustration, Montag takes one of his books and leaves to visit with Faber, an old English professor he once knew. The two of them devise a plan to save the knowledge from Montag's books. They decide that Montag must memorize the books to be ensured that their contents are preserved. When Montag goes home, he again frightens his wife by showing her his books; he also shows them to two neighbors. Then he goes to the fire station to turn over one of his books so no one will be suspicious of him. At the fire station, the alarm sounds and Montag must go with Beatty and the other firemen to destroy a house. When they arrive, he realizes it is his own home they are supposed to burn.
At his house, Montag discovers that his own wife has turned him in. In a rage, he kills Beatty and is then attacked by the Hound. He manages to escape and goes to see Faber, seeking help. Faber takes Montag to the country, where some other intellectual exiles are living. Montag becomes part of their group. Like the others, he struggled to memorize books. Their plan is to someday put the knowledge from the books back on paper.
While Montag is in exile, the long-awaited war finally breaks out. The city that Montag has come from is completely destroyed. After the fighting is over, Montag and the others walk back to the city. They are determined to build a new civilization there.