Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 tells of a dystopian society and of the journey of one man to understand the world in which he lives. The tale begins with Guy Montag as a willing participant in the government’s oppressive attempt to surveil its citizens and to control their thoughts and ideas. The story tells of many challenges and ends with Montag in a better society. This essay will explore how Fahrenheit 451 follows the three stages of the monomyth pattern of departure (or separation) from the mundane world, initiation (or challenge), and return (or restoration) to the ordinary world.
Montag follows a family tradition by becoming a fireman just as his father and grandfather were before him. His job is to burn books as well as the homes in which they are found. He sees nothing wrong with his profession until he meets a young woman named Clarisse. She asks lots of intriguing questions, such as why he became a fireman, if he ever reads the books, and if he is happy. Clarisse’s questions are Montag’s call to adventure, although he takes a while to accept it. He examines his life and realizes that he is not happy. This is his mental state when the firemen find books in a woman’s attic and start throwing them down the steps. The books fall all around Montag, and one “fell into his arms” (Bradbury, 34). Montag’s trembling hand seems to work without any directions from his brain as it “plunged the book back under his arm, pressed it tight to sweating armpit” (Bradbury, 35). Even though Montag has stolen other books, this act takes him across the threshold into the unknown world.
Beatty, the fire captain, takes notice of the change in Montag and unexpectedly visits him at home. Beatty shares the history of the firemen in an effort to bring Montag back in line, but his warning goes unheeded. Montag continues his quest to learn “if what the Captain says is true” and “why we’re in such a mess” (Bradbury, 63). Montag visits Professor Faber in an effort to find some answers, but the professor first wants to know what brought Montag to this point. Montag explains that people around him are dying, he is searching for happiness, and he thinks that he might find contentment in books. Faber becomes his mentor and explains, “It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books” (Bradbury, 78). Since books are only paper with printed words, the information contained in books is what gives quality to life. Faber’s counsel is helpful, but Montag’s mission has reached crisis level. He is unaware that his wife has reported him to the firemen until the fire truck stops in front of his own home and his wife hurries out the door with a suitcase. He is forced to burn his own home, but then he turns the fire nozzle on Captain Beatty. Realizing that he is now in danger, Montag borrows some old clothes from Faber and flees for his life. He jumps into the nearby river just in time to escape the mechanical hound that is hot on his trail, and he begins his return to the ordinary world.
Montag floats down the river until he is far from the city. As he drifts he realizes that he is “moving from an unreality that was frightening into a reality that was unreal because it was new” (Bradbury, 133). Montag has escaped from the unknown world, and he is returning to the everyday world. His restoration is complete when he meets a group of exiled intellectuals who welcome him into their midst. He learns that they are confident in their ability to create a better society because they have memorized numerous books.
This essay shows that Fahrenheit 451 follows the classic monomyth pattern. Montag leaves his mundane world when he realizes that books have value. He faces many challenges as he moves through his surreal world, but he is restored to the ordinary world when he joins the group of heroic intellectuals. Montag’s story is a typical hero’s journey to save his world.