Fahrenheit 451 is a favorite book for teachers to assign—and a favorite for students to read. It’s a classic dystopian novel written in the ‘50s and set in the 24th century.
Even though it’s not quite the 24th century yet, Ray Bradbury did get a few things scarily right about the future, technology-wise.
What’s even more surprising is that no matter when you read Fahrenheit 451, it always feels relevant, at least in some way. Themes of escapism, censorship, and media all play big roles in that. But it’s the characters that bring us here today.
Great characters = a great story—but you can’t write a great essay if you don’t know much about them.
So I’m here to tell you what you need to know about the four main Fahrenheit 451 characters.
(Need to write about themes in Fahrenheit 451 instead? Read 4 Important Fahrenheit 451 Themes That Are Worth Analyzing.)
Guy Montag: The Phoenix
Guy Montag starts out as a pretty proud fireman. He’s not like the firefighters we know today, of course. Because buildings are now basically fireproof, firemen set fire to books. Not just some books—all books.
Our main man Montag starts feeling a bit bad about his life.
After a conversation with the neighbor girl, Clarisse, he realizes just how empty his life is. To him, everyone he’s surrounded himself with now seems, to him, to have this false sense of happiness that he was buying into too.
He realizes that he’s in this loveless relationship with a woman he can’t even remember meeting for the first time. To top that all off, he and his crew have to burn a lady alive when she refuses to part ways with her beloved books.
What would make someone choose death over living without books?
He has to find out, so he starts hoarding books in his house. He reaches out to a retired professor named Faber, who agrees to help Montag in his studies and even hatches a scheme to start printing books again.
Of course, Beatty and Mildred (Montag’s wife) catch on to his budding literary curiosity. Mildred even goes as far as turning her husband in. But as the firemen prepare to burn down Montag’s house, Montag turns the fire hose on Beatty and sets him ablaze.
Montag flees the scene and gets Faber’s help to escape the city. Once Montag’s out, he meets up with some rebel intellectuals. The city gets bombed, and Montag joins the rebels to start a new society.
Of course, there’s much more nuance to the narrative.
But this isn’t about what Montag did as much as it is about Montag himself. He’s certainly got the most development out of any of the Fahrenheit 451 characters. But he is the main character, so that’s fitting.
So what do we know about Montag?
Montag starts off as any other drone of this futuristic society. It’s not until he meets a young, idealistic girl who exposes him to philosophy and the joys of nature that he starts questioning things. Once he starts on that path, he can’t stop.
Montag is characterized by his extreme emotions. Once they awaken inside of him, he can’t control himself. He reads poetry (illegally) in front of Mildred and her friends. And then he lights his boss on fire.
It’s like he had been living in this gray, dull society, was reborn, and then had no idea how to navigate through society. But it works out for him in the end. You can see how it’s fitting that he wears the phoenix insignia of the firemen.
Essay Idea #2: Analyze the phoenix symbol and how it characterizes Montag.
Captain Beatty: Beatty the Baddy
Captain Beatty is one of the most unlikeable Fahrenheit 451 characters.
He’s cruel, manipulative, and hypocritical. He’s everything wrong with the society Bradbury created. He hates everything books represent, but he is oddly in tune with what books actually have to say.
What’s that all about?
Beatty tells Montag that every fireman gets curious about books at one point or another. It’s here, you might guess, that Beatty himself gets curious about books. He even starts yelling contradictory literary quotes at Montag, showing that Beatty has read quite a bit.
Bradbury uses Beatty to show the reader what the leaders of society think. It’s through this character that we learn that books are banned because they lead to too much confusion.
He also admits that, although he once quested for knowledge, he now enjoys the simple, instantaneous pleasures in life. Moreover, Beatty tries to control Montag, which represents the authoritarian society they all share.
Beatty encourages Montag to read the books he hoarded for 24 hours and then return them, which gets Montag hooked on books. Then, Beatty tells Montag to return to a later shift at work, only to drive Montag to burn down his own house.
Captain Beatty’s power-hunger is ultimately his downfall. He goads Montag into setting him ablaze, and Montag obliges.
Essay Idea #4: How does Beatty represent Bradbury’s fictional society as a whole?
Mildred Montag: The Zombie
If Beatty represents the authoritarian side of this society, Mildred Montag represents the common citizen. With her pale skin, she resembles someone who’s dead. And really, with the escapism she displays, she might as well be.
Mildred escapes to the comfort of her three television screens. She even calls the characters her family. She longs for a fourth wall of televisions, which just points further to her need to drown out her real life with fantasy.
Mildred is so lifeless that, when she overdoses, she doesn’t really seem to care. It’s also not stated explicitly whether the overdose is on purpose or an accident.
If it isn’t, she just mindlessly downed pills the same way she mindlessly consumes everything else in her life. If it is on purpose, it leads the reader to wonder if Mildred really does have emotions deep down that she just can’t handle.
In the end, she turns in her own husband and drives away.
Essay Idea #6: Describe the role Mildred plays in Guy’s life.
Clarisse McClellan: The Hippy
I call Clarisse a hippy because she’s the only one in the story who seems to love nature at all. She rejoices in its beauty and all the sensations of the natural world. She’s the opposite of everything and everyone around her, especially Mildred.
Clarisse’s role in Fahrenheit 451 is that of a catalyst.
She sets everything in motion by asking Guy questions and opening his eyes to the fact that he’s unhappy. Her joy for life makes him want to have the same.
She ends up getting run over by a car—a tragic end to one of my favorite Fahrenheit 451 characters. Her death highlights the inhumanity of society—not only in how she dies, but also in how Mildred tells the news to Guy.
Essay Idea #8: Compare and contrast Clarisse McClellan and Mildred Montag.
Next Steps for Writing About Your Favorite Fahrenheit 451 Characters
And there you have it—four of the most important Fahrenheit 451 characters and a few essay ideas to get you started.
If you need to see some examples for inspiration, look at what some other students have written:
- An Analysis of the Influence of Literature in Empowering Guy Montag
- A Psychiatric Evaluation of Guy Montag
- The Power of Influence in Fahrenheit 451
- The Effect of Clarisse McClellan in Fahrenheit 451
- The Demise of Clarisse in Fahrenheit 451
Make sure to check out these two annotated character analysis examples too.
- 8 Components of a Smart Literary Analysis
- Literary Present Tense: Everything You Need to Know
- 15 Literary Terms You Need to Know to Write Better Essays