Fahrenheit 451

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Guy Montag Character Analysis

A fireman and the book's protagonist. As the novel opens, Montag takes pride in burning books and the homes of people who illegally own books. After meeting Clarisse McClellan, however, he begins to face his growing dissatisfaction with his life, his job, his marriage, and the pleasure-seeking, unthinking culture in which he lives. In fact, he has been secretly hoarding books, without actually reading them. After Clarisse's death, he eventually begins to read the books. From that point on, there's no turning back, and Montag begins to take action against his oppressive society.

Guy Montag Quotes in Fahrenheit 451

The Fahrenheit 451 quotes below are all either spoken by Guy Montag or refer to Guy Montag. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Fahrenheit 451 published in 2013.
Part 1 Quotes
It was a pleasure to burn.
Related Characters: Clarisse McClellan (speaker), Guy Montag
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

The famous first sentence of the novel introduces readers to a world in which firemen start fires instead of putting them out. Guy Montag, the main character of the novel, is a fireman, and seems to take great pleasure in his work. Guy doesn't see anything morally objectionable about using fire to destroy "improper" literature--on the contrary, he seems to believe that he's doing the right thing.

The sentence also alludes to the dark side of Guy's society. Authority figures like Guy act as if they're doing the "right thing" by burning down people's houses. But secretly, it's implied, they act out of a savage, primal desire to destroy--in short, Guy's society is controlled by cruel and brutal people pretending to be voices of morality. Guy's society is also hopelessly violent thanks to the omnipotence of television and sensationalized entertainment.

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"Are you happy?"
Related Characters: Clarisse McClellan (speaker), Guy Montag
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Guy's mysterious neighbor, Clarisse McClellan, asks Guy a simple yet slightly sinister question: "Are you happy?" Even more oddly, Clarisse runs inside before Guy can answer, leaving him alone to ponder his own happiness.

The very fact that Guy perceives Clarisse's question as bizarre tells us a great deal about their society. In the future, it would seem, conversations about one's emotions and deep thoughts are discouraged--people focus more on distraction and entertainment than on their feelings. Thus, a question as simple as "Are you happy?" is a shock. Up until now, Guy has blindly accepted the rules of his society without questioning any of them. In doing so, Guy has ignored his innate sense of morality, and even his innate sense of happiness. By analyzing his own happiness, Guy can begin to rebel against his society's corruption.

"You're not like the others. I've seen a few; I know. When I talk, you look at me. When I said something about the moon, you looked at the moon, last night. The others would never do that."
Related Characters: Clarisse McClellan (speaker), Guy Montag
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Guy and his neighbor, Clarisse, bond over their common characteristics--their thoughtfulness, their curiosity, etc. Clarisse is amazed that Guy is a fireman--a profession that she associates with brutality and cruelty. Clarisse sees a different side of Guy: she finds him sensitive and compassionate. In an increasingly superficial, vapid society, Guy is still capable of (somewhat) deep thought, as evidenced by the way he studies the moon.

Clarisse's comments on Guy's personality suggest that Guy's society is forcing him to become something he's not. Because his society celebrates distraction and superficial entertainment, thoughtful, introspective people are pressured into mindlessness. Over the course of the novel, Guy will learn to escape the deafening influence of television and get in touch with his inquisitive spirit.

"I'm antisocial, they say. I don't mix. It's so strange. I'm very social indeed. It all depends on what you mean by social, doesn't it? Social to me means talking to you about things like this."
Related Characters: Clarisse McClellan (speaker), Guy Montag
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

As Guy gets to know Clarisse, he discovers that she's been punished in the past for being, allegedly, "antisocial." Clarisse didn't have a good time at school because of her suppose antisocial tendencies, which alienated her from her peers. But here, Clarisse makes it clear that "antisocial" is a biased, arbitrary term. By readers' standards, Clarisse is interesting and thoughtful. And yet because she refuses to conform to society--to be superficial and loud and aggressive--she's labeled antisocial and condemned by her peers. Ironically, Clarisse is both the character who most resembles the likely reader of Fahrenheit 451 and character who least resembles the average citizen of the fictional society of Fahrenheit 451. Thus she is a kind of link character, a voice of sanity in an overwhelming, insane world.

Bradbury critiques the strong conformity of American society in the 1950s. Those who are "different," both in the 50s and in the novel, are condemned and made to feel imperfect. It takes a lot of courage and strength for Clarisse to remain aloof from her society--instead of giving in and watching television with everyone else, she remains curious and thoughtful about the real world and her own inner life.

"Speed up the film, Montag, quick... Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom! Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline!... Whirl man's mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!"
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker), Guy Montag
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Captain Beatty--Guy's superior at the fire station--gives Guy a condensed history of the United States. Once, information was thorough and analytical. But with the rise of the mass media and the invention of television, information became increasingly brief and superficial. In an effort to entertain, rather than inform, newspapers condensed their articles. The result is that the overall "pace" of human society seemed to increase: people processed information at a quicker speed, but only because the information was designed to be simpler and less nuanced.

Beatty's informal history (itself a highly "simplified" version of a big, complicated topic) suggests that American society as a whole has embraced the tenets of modern advertising. Just as the point of an ad slogan is to be quick, digestible, and above all entertaining, newspapers and books have begun to aspire to simplicity, with the goal of attracting as many "customers" as possible. It's easy to see the costs of the social changes Beatty describes, even if he never explicitly names them: in trading popularity and simplicity for thoroughness, society has become less thoughtful, less well-informed, and generally less mature.

"Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don't step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that!... Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did."
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker), Guy Montag
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

Captain Beatty continues offering Guy an informal history of the changes in information flow during the 20th century. With the rise of identity politics, the media were placed under close scrutiny. If a newspaper article was perceived as being insensitive to a particular religion, occupation, or ethnic group, that group could lobby to have the article removed or even permanently erased. In general, demographic groups gained more and more political power, to the point where all media had to be extra careful not to offend any group of people in particular.

The passage is one of the most famous and widely quoted in the entire book, because it's often interpreted as a scathing critique of "political correctness." As Bradbury sees it, it's wrong to censor a book for its perceived insensitivity to a group of people, because doing so will lead to a slippery slope in which no remotely controversial opinions can be printed. The end result, then, is that creativity and free speech are neutered, and only socially-approved ideas can be publicized. As Bradbury makes very clear, however, the reason for the slippery slope of political correctness has very little to do with genuine respect for the demographic groups who claim to be offended. Rather, media groups censor their own products for fear of alienating potential customers--in other words, censorship prevails because it makes economic sense. Companies make the most money when they appeal--however blandly--to "everyone."

"The important thing for you to remember, Montag, is we're the Happiness Boys... you and I and the others. We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought. We have our fingers in the dike. Hold steady. Don't let the torrent of melancholy and drear philosophy drown our world."
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker), Guy Montag
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

Beatty tells his employee, Guy Montag, that he and Guy are agents of happiness. As firemen, Beatty and Guy have one crucial job: destroy literature that doesn't conform with society's standards. While Guy has some reservations about the morality of burning books, Beatty seems not to doubt the nobility of his profession. Beatty sees intelligence and deep thought as dangerous diseases, which lead to unhappiness and anxiety. The only way to ensure that society remains happy is by preserving its innocence--in other words, by destroying all "conflicting ideas."

Beatty's speech to Guy is, of course, darkly ironic, since, as we've seen, it is Beatty's society (the society of conformity and television) that is actually "melancholy and drear." Theory and deep thought do not, contrary to what Beatty claims, always lead to sadness--rather, they represent the only way that human beings can achieve true happiness and move beyond the glib pleasures of superficial entertainment.

Part 2 Quotes
"We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren't happy. Something's missing. I looked around. The only thing I positively knew was gone was the books I'd burned in ten or twelve years. So I thought books might help."
Related Characters: Guy Montag (speaker)
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Guy and his wife try to read some of the forbidden books that Guy was supposed to burn. While reading the books is a challenge for Guy (who's barely read anything in his life), Guy senses that a solution to his sadness must be hidden in literature--literature is the only thing missing from his life, and therefore literature must be capable of nourishing his soul.

The passage makes an important distinction between spiritual and material needs. When Guy says that he has everything he needs to be happy, he's referring to his material needs exclusively: as a typical American, he has a nice house, plenty of food, constant television, etc. And yet Guy senses that his deeper needs aren't being addressed: television can entertain him, but it can't take away his sense of melancholy and unfulfillment. In order to remedy his sadness, Guy looks to literature for help--precisely because it's the one thing denied to him.

He would be Montag-plus-Faber, fire plus water, and then, one day, after everything had mixed and simmered and worked away in silence, there would be neither fire nor water, but wine.
Related Characters: Guy Montag
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Guy Montag resolves to use Faber's teachings to undermine the censorship and repression of his own society. Faber is deeply cynical about the state of society--he condemns his society's ignorance, its sadism, and its lack of empathy--but he's always reluctant to put his ideas to practice. Guy, by contrast, is eager to improve the state of society, trying to bring the engagement and empathy Faber celebrates and put it into action.

The passage is an interesting description of what the 19th century anarchists called "creative destruction." Guy has spent most of his adult life destroying books on behalf of his society. But henceforth, Guy will use his destructive tendencies in order to create something new and valuable: an empathetic, engaged society. In doing so, Guy hopes to engineer a near-miraculous transformation in his country (Note the Biblical allusion in this passage: Guy wants to change his world, like Christ changing water into wine.)

Part 3 Quotes
"Now, Montag, you're a burden. And fire will lift you off my shoulders, clean, quick, sure; nothing to rot later. Antibiotic, aesthetic, practical."
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker), Guy Montag
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Beatty offers Guy a chance to burn down his own house, which--as we've seen--has been targeted for destruction because of Guy's "subversive" behavior. As Guy grips the flamethrower in his hands, Beatty mocks Guy for being a "burden" and suggests that he'll enjoy burning Guy to a crisp.

It's not a great idea to antagonize someone with access to a working flamethrower. But perhaps Beatty's behavior in this passage is indicative of a broader problem with his society. On some level, Beatty seems to want Guy to attack him with the flamethrower (which Guy does immediately after this passage). Beatty's hatred for Guy--his desire to burn Guy to death--suggests his self-hatred, and his desire to end his own pathetic life. In short, Beatty's behavior exposes the hidden depression and self-loathing of modern American society-- feelings encouraged by the vapidity and violence of the modern media.

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Guy Montag Character Timeline in Fahrenheit 451

The timeline below shows where the character Guy Montag appears in Fahrenheit 451. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
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As the novel begins, Guy Montag is taking an intense pleasure in burning a pile of books on a lawn. It's... (full context)
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As he walks home, Montag encounters a teenage girl standing alone. She introduces herself as Clarisse McClellan, a new neighbor,... (full context)
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...peers do. When she tells him that there's dew on the grass in the morning, Montag suddenly isn't sure if he knew that. When they reach Clarisse's house, all the lights... (full context)
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Montag enters his own house, troubled by Clarisse's parting question. Of course he's happy. But the... (full context)
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...entering the cold, dark silence of his bedroom, which the narrator compares to a tomb, Montag realizes that he is not, in fact, happy. His wife, Mildred, is stretched out as... (full context)
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Montag calls the hospital. Two technicians arrive with machines—one to pump out Mildred's stomach, the other... (full context)
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Montag watches Mildred as color returns to her cheeks. He opens the window across the lawn... (full context)
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...Mildred has no memory of the previous night and denies taking the pills. Later, when Montag gets ready for work, Mildred is in the TV parlor preparing to watch a TV... (full context)
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On his way to work, Montag meets Clarisse again. She is walking in the rain, tasting the raindrops and holding dandelions.... (full context)
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Clarisse tells Montag that she thinks it's strange that he's a fireman, since other firemen won't talk to... (full context)
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After Clarisse leaves, Montag opens his mouth to taste the raindrops while he walks to work. (full context)
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At the fire station, Montag looks in on the "sleeping" Mechanical Hound, a robotic creature that can be programmed to... (full context)
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Upstairs, four firemen are playing cards. Montag complains to Captain Beatty (whose helmet has a phoenix on it) about the Hound's threatening... (full context)
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For the next week, Montag sees Clarisse every day. They have conversations about their friendship, about children, about the smell... (full context)
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Over the same seven-day period, Montag works at the firehouse, sometimes entering through the back door. Someone mentions that a fireman... (full context)
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At the station that day, Montag and the firemen play cards as the radio in the background reports that war may... (full context)
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Montag asks if there once was a time when firemen prevented fires, rather than setting them.... (full context)
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...the house, pile up the books, and pump kerosene into the rooms. While they work, Montag grabs a book and instinctively hides it in his clothing. (full context)
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The woman refuses to leave the building. Montag desperately tries to lead her out, but she won't leave her porch. Kerosene fumes are... (full context)
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Driving back to the firehouse, Montag asks what the woman was reciting when they entered. Beatty knows it by heart. It's... (full context)
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At home that night, Montag hides the book he took from the old woman's house under his pillow. Mildred talks... (full context)
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Montag realizes he's not in love with Mildred anymore. He feels like he's lost her to... (full context)
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Montag mentions to Mildred that he hasn't seen the neighbors in a while and wonders what... (full context)
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The next morning, Montag feels ill and vomits. He's late for work and considers calling in sick. He tells... (full context)
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Once inside, Beatty tells Montag that he anticipated Montag would call in sick. He says that all firemen, at some... (full context)
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As Beatty talks, Mildred starts straightening up the house. She soon discovers the book that Montag hid behind his pillow. When she tries to point out the book to Beatty, Montag... (full context)
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Montag asks about Clarisse, and Beatty reveals that he'd been keeping an eye on the McClellan... (full context)
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Before leaving, Beatty mentions that every fireman eventually feels the urge to read a book. Montag asks what would happen to a fireman who accidentally took a book home. Beatty says... (full context)
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Montag tells Mildred he never wants to work as a fireman again, and shows her a... (full context)
Part 2
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Montag and Mildred spend the afternoon flipping through books, reading passages, and trying to make sense... (full context)
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Montag remembers a retired English professor he met in the park a year ago. The man,... (full context)
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Montag shows Mildred the book he took from the old woman's house: it's a Bible, maybe... (full context)
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Mildred yells at Montag that he's ruining them. Soon, however, she calms down and tells him that her friends... (full context)
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On the subway, Montag feels numb. He remembers a time as a child at the beach when he tried,... (full context)
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Faber is frightened when Montag shows up at his house, but is reassured when Montag shows him the Bible. Faber... (full context)
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Montag says that something is missing from people's lives, and books are the only things he... (full context)
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...the earth, but whom Hercules defeated after lifting him off the ground. He agrees when Montag relays Mildred's contention that TV seems more real than books, but he responds that he... (full context)
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Montag wants to do something, but Faber is reluctant to act. Faber does hypothetically suggest a... (full context)
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Unwilling not to act, Montag rips a page out of the Bible, then another, until Faber's agrees to help. Faber... (full context)
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As Montag takes the subway home, Faber reads to him from the Bible while pleasant announcements that... (full context)
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...Mildred's friends Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Bowles arrive to watch the White Clown. Faber, through Montag' earpiece, tells him not to do anything and to be patient, but Montag pulls the... (full context)
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Moments later, Montag returns with a book of poetry. Although Faber, through the radio earpiece, begs him not... (full context)
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Montag searches the house for his books. He finds them where Mildred has put them behind... (full context)
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At the firehouse, Montag hands over a book to Beatty, who welcomes him back to work and tosses the... (full context)
Part 3
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As the neighbors come out to watch, Montag glances toward Clarisse's empty house. Beatty notices and mocks Montag for being influenced by her... (full context)
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Beatty orders Montag to destroy his own house with a flamethrower or get hunted down by the Mechanical... (full context)
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Beatty arrests Montag, then mocks him for the foolishness and snobbery that led him to quote poetry to... (full context)
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On one numb and one good leg, Montag hobbles to the backyard, grabs four remaining books, and limps away. He suddenly feels certain... (full context)
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Crossing a street, Montag is nearly run down by what he thinks is a police vehicle but what turns... (full context)
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Montag goes to Faber's house and tells him what happened. Faber feels invigorated for the first... (full context)
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Montag advises Faber on how to eliminate Montag's scent from the house by burning things, wiping... (full context)
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By the time the Hound and the searchlight-equipped helicopters reach the river, Montag is already beyond their reach downstream. As he floats along, he watches the helicopters turn... (full context)
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Montag follows the railroad tracks, feeling more alive and at home in his body. After a... (full context)
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The men around the campfire—a reverend and four academics—ask Montag what he has to offer. He says the Book of Ecclesiastes, though only what he's... (full context)
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...books to a next generation until the people of the cities are ready. Granger wants Montag to understand that they must not feel superior to other people. They consider themselves "dust... (full context)
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As they move downstream, Montag looks at the faces of the men, trying to find a sign of their inner... (full context)
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Suddenly, jets scream overhead on the way to the city. Montag thinks of Mildred, and tells the other men that something must be wrong with him... (full context)
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...The shockwave from the explosion knocks the men down. As he huddles against the ground, Montag thinks of Clarisse, already dead, Faber, on a bus to another annihilated city, and Mildred,... (full context)
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Montag then remembers passages from the Book of Ecclesiastes and recites them to himself. Once the... (full context)
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...build a mirror factory so that everyone can take a long look at themselves. With Montag leading the way, the men head upriver to help the survivors and the destroyed city... (full context)