The first words of Bradbury’s novel state, “it was a pleasure to burn” (Bradbury 3). These words sum up the beginning character of Montag; he enjoys burning, and his job is to “answer alarms not to put out fires, but to start them (Moore 103). Guy Montag is a fireman, a man who is trained to spray kerosene on books, and light them in a spectacular show. He has never questioned his job or the reasoning behind burning books. He takes pride in his position, even shines his “beetle-colored helmet” as he hangs it on its hook (Bradbury 4). With fire Montag “brings down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history”, and he revels in the power of destruction that fire holds (Bradbury 3).
His only view of fire is a product of his job as a fireman; he sees fire as a machine, which simply burns and devours the freedom of the people. In this period of his life, Montag feels comfortable with machine, especially the machines that produce fire. He sees nothing wrong when his wife lip-reads his words instead of listening to him speak. When Montag first meets his young neighbor, Clarisse, he thinks of her in a mechanical mindset (Johnson 111). He sees them walking, as if “fixed to a sliding walk, letting the motion of the wind and the leaves carry them forward” (Bradbury 5). Hence, Montag feels comfortable around the soulless technology of his society; he loves to burn and to destroy, and he cannot think about the morals that surround his job and his culture.
Montag is first pushed towards rejecting his society when he meets Clarisse. She is brave enough to question society and in doing so causes Montag to question the morals of his civilization. Clarisse is the one who “represents those imaginative values that Montag lacks and which he must acquire” and she “awakens in him the desire to read” (Touponce 126-8). Montag’s first reaction is to laugh off Clarisse’s questions; he seems uneasy with the thought of reading. His emotions and laughing reaction reveal his nervousness around a young girl, who can so easily challenge the values that he has followed all his life. Clarisse is also important because she awakens Montag to the natural world.
She asks him if he knew there was a man on the moon, or if he knew what it means when a dandelion rubs off on a chin. Clarisse is the one who introduces Bradbury’s theme that “nature is good and technology is bad” (Huntington 113). Clarisse lets Montag experience freedom from his society because “the novel expresses this vision of freedom with images of sentimentalized nature” (Huntington 112). She leaves him feeling that something in Montag’s world has changed, that “he was not happyhe wore his happiness like a mask and the girl had run off across the lawn with the mask” (Bradbury 12). Montag can no longer accept the world the way it is, and thus, either he, or it, must change. He then comes home to his wife, Mildred, to find her near death from a suicide attempt.
Montag watches as two employees use a sinister machine to purge his wife of the poison. Montag sees the machine as “black cobra”, and he wonders if “it sucks out all the poisons accumulated with the years” (Bradbury 14). Thus, Montag is beginning to view machines as inhuman and unnatural. Mildred is a .