Balzac et la Petite Tailleuse chinoise

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Dai Sijie

Montag is a complex character. An ambiguous character, he is at times impulsive and at other times cautious. His impulsivity can be seen from incidents such as his recklessly reciting poetry to his wife's visitors, torching Beatty (although he did so in self-defense), and stupidly taking his wife into his confidence. On the other hand, he delays in turning Faber in, giving his case consideration before doing so. He is also prudent in regard to Clarissa, and the fact that he has kept his books a secret for so many years indicates that the man can be cautious when he wishes to.

It also Montag's loyalty to his friends that saves him. He refuses to turn Faber in even though he should have done so; he torches Beatty rather than lead him to Faber's house; he mourns Clarissa (and is, indeed, the sole one to do so); and he demonstrates enduring patience and loyalty to his pathetic wife even after she betrays him. Montag seems a solid, trustworthy, somewhat conflicted man who is willing to do what is right regardless of the cost to himself. He gives over his life's earnings to publish and disseminate books, refuses to continue with the book burnings once a woman has killed herself, and cares for Faber's security and safety. His attitude is all the more striking in a world where social disassociation and callousness is the rule.

Montag seems to be a man who is struggling with two opposing voices, and these two opposing voices run through the thread of the narrative. On the one hand, he is employed by Beatty to burn books regardless of the misery of others and the value of the library in question. On the other hand, his ears are assaulted by Faber's constant incoming messages urging him to disobey. The contradictory messages comprise the theme of the book; they give the book its force and impulse. It makes sense, therefore, that the protagonist himself should be swayed by opposing messages. In the end, Montag torches Beatty and saves Faber. He steals the book, seeking to better the world.

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