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Senior: 11 & 12: Clever Man / Fahrenheit 451

Clever Man / Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451


Guy Montag

Guy Montag, a fireman, is the protagonist of Fahrenheit 451. In the universe of the novel, the traditional role of the fireman is subverted: buildings are largely made from fireproof materials, and the job of a fireman is to burn books. Instead of preserving the past, a fireman now destroys it.

Montag is initially presented as a content citizen of a world where books are treated as dangerous. The famous opening line of the novel, “It was a pleasure to burn,” is written from Montag’s perspective. Montag revels in his work and is a respected member of society because of it. However, when he meets Clarisse McClellan and she asks him if he is happy, he experiences a sudden crisis, suddenly imagining that he is splitting into two people.

This moment of splitting comes to define Montag. Until the end of the story, Montag indulges in the idea that he is not responsible for his own increasingly dangerous acts.

Mildred Montag

Mildred is Guy’s wife. Although Guy cares very deeply for her, she has evolved into a person he finds alien and horrifying. Mildred has no ambitions beyond watching television and listening to her ‛Seashell ear-thimbles,’ constantly immersed in entertainment and distraction that requires no thought or mental effort on her part. She represents society as a whole: seemingly superficially happy, deeply unhappy inside, and unable to articulate or cope with that unhappiness.

Captain Beatty

Captain Beatty is the most well-read and highly educated character in the book. Nevertheless, he has devoted his life to destroying books and maintaining society's ignorance. Unlike the other characters, Beatty has embraced his own guilt and chooses to utilize the knowledge that he has attained.

Beatty is motivated by his own desire to return to a state of ignorance. He was once a rebel who read and learned in defiance of society, but knowledge brought him fear and doubt. He sought answers—the sort of simple, rock solid answers that could guide him to the right decisions—and instead he found questions, which led in turn to more questions. He began to feel despair and helplessness, and ultimately decided that he was wrong to seek knowledge in the first place.

Clarisse McClellan

A teenage girl living near Guy and Mildred, Clarisse rejects ignorance with childlike honesty and courage. Not yet broken by society, Clarisse still has a youthful curiosity about everything around her, demonstrated by her constant questioning of Guy—questioning that spurs his identity crisis.

Unlike those around her, Clarisse seeks knowledge for knowledge’s sake. She does not seek knowledge to use it as a weapon like Beatty, she doesn’t seek knowledge as a cure to an internal crisis like Montag, nor does she seek knowledge as a way of saving society like the exiles do. Clarisse simply wants to know things. Her ignorance is the natural, beautiful ignorance that marks the beginning of life, and her instinctive efforts to answer questions represent the best of humanity’s instincts. 

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