Fahrenheit 451: Feelin’ the Heat!

Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which books burn, and burn they do. But why do people burn them? In general, the main purpose of a book burning is to dispose of and forbid knowledge that might expose an authority figure as being wrong in some way. Burning books has never been uncommon; it has always been used to prevent people from knowing the truth about various matters.

Unexpectedly, however, the chief fireman, Beatty, owns a large number of books in his home, but claims not to have read them; however, he speaks in an educated way, and often quotes books, which means that, not only has he read those books, but he is a liar. He lies to Montag when he tells him that books say nothing and are not worth anything, and he lies when he says he has not read the books that line his shelves. Why, though, would he lie about this? Obviously he fears negative repercussions when people discover that he has, in fact, read the books, but, as discussed in class, the point of burning books is to keep people from reading them, because then they watch their television walls instead, which they cannot control. As Emma W. pointed out, Faber tells us, “You can shut [books],” meaning that we can close a book and think about them. With the “parlor families,” that is not an option. Beatty knows that people do not own books because of the same fear we can guess he feels, but he also wants to have the ability to control the knowledge he gains from the books he reads.

Another question is, how can he read books and then still burn them? This probably relates back to the idea of controlling knowledge. If he burns books, nobody else can learn what he has learned. Knowledge is power, everyone says, and if Beatty has knowledge, he has power, and if he has power, then, as discussed in class (I forget who raised this point) Beatty knows nobody will come after him, that nobody will dare to burn his house down.

Later in the book, in the third section (spoiler alert: if you have not yet done the reading, stop reading this, finish the book, and then read the rest of my post) Montag turns the flamethrower on Beatty and pulls the trigger, burning Beatty to death as well as the mechanical hound. Beatty knew perfectly well that he was endangering himself in giving the flamethrower to Montag, and did nothing to protect himself when he found the flamethrower pointing at him. Perhaps burning books did have deep psychological effects on him after all; he read the books, he learned their value, and he destroyed them. Guilt causes people to do crazy things; perhaps he helped the authority figures who gave him power by becoming a martyr, while at the same time sentencing to death the man with the books who could eventually learn what Beatty had learned, but it is also possible that Beatty’s letting Montag kill him is, in Beatty’s mind, poetic justice for all the books he destroyed in the past.

Finally, we have to consider the ending. The people living in the woods, watching the chase and murder of “Montag,” know that the government is a fraud, and that they instill fear in people while at the same time publicly but, interestingly enough, secretly killing those who might dare oppose them, the people like Clarisse McClellan, the first person to open Montag’s eyes to the censorship under which he lived. The government, of course, forbids the publics learning that they are not infallible, which is why it is the ones in the woods, who live out of the law, that reveal this final secret to Montag. But is it possible for them to win? Faber confesses a regret for not speaking out when book burnings started and expresses the idea that it is now too late, but can he be wrong? Or do you think that the ones in the woods are optimistic beyond reality?

8 thoughts on “Fahrenheit 451: Feelin’ the Heat!”

  1. I agree with your point about Beatty, clearly someone who owns many books and speaks in an educated way, frequently quoting books, doesn’t just stare at them on his shelves. Beatty no doubt reads his books to gain knowledge and have their power over the people who’s books he selfishly destroys. Books allow people to really think outside of the box, to use their imaginations which is why the government seeks to destroy them. The government in this story controls the thoughts of its citizens through provided television programs.
    This story reminds me very much of another dystopian novel, “1984” by, George Orwell. In this novel the government also seeks to destroy knowledge and open thought of it’s citizens but instead of burning the books, they have people whose job it is to rewrite and revise books to “Big Brother’s” approval.

  2. I like your point about Montag turning on Beatty, I agree that he felt bad about destroying books after he had read them. This brings up a good point about how valuable books really are in our society, we are constantly learning and engaging our minds when we read. Montag saw this and wanted to get back at Beatty for showing him the other side of books.

  3. Same here guys! Obviously Beatty has at least cracked open a few pages or glanced at the things once or twice, at minimum. I say minimum because on several occasions Beatty recites extensive portions of books to Montag, sometimes mockingly it seems. So he most definitely has read these books. What strikes me as rather thought provoking though is the sense of Absolutism expressed in Meaghan’s post. We kinda touched on it it class so I won’t beat a dead horse but I feel as though Beatty did not want things to end the way they did. We often discuss this concept of forbidden knowledge, the idea that as soon as information is depicted as restricted or banned, we instantaneously gravitate towards it. We noticed this is Genesis with Adam and Eve and the tree of Forbidden Knowledge and with Prometheus’ gift of fire to man. Perhaps this is the strategy that Beatty employs in order to grant Montag the gift that he cannot ever fully receive because of his job description. By continuously telling Montag of the unworthiness of Books, Montag’s curiosity only proliferates and he begins to enjoy them more and more. That differing perspective being established, I can see the rationale of Beatty wanting to be “put out of misery.” If he in fact enjoyed books, but were unable to voice his dire love for them, he’s miserable, and therefore might have wanted Montag to pull the trigger.

  4. I like your paragraph explaining why Beatty burns books. I agree that he does in fact read the books and lies about it and I also think that he does read them to acquire knowledge that no one else can have. The knowledge gives him an edge over everyone else in society and makes him a threat to everyone else as well.

  5. I agree with Jessie and Meaghan that Beatty reads the books and lies about it. It makes sense that he would read them to gain knowledge and expand his imagination and mind, and then burn them so no one else could read them and gain that knowledge as well. Just as Jessie said, the knowledge he gains makes him a threat against the rest of society, as they can not know the information that he knows after reading and burning a book.

  6. Maybe Beatty burns the books so that only HE can have the knowledge? He seems like the kind of guy who enjoys power and using it to manipulate others, so maybe he secretly reads the books so he has an intellectual advantage over others? He certainly displays that kind of power when he bullies Montag over the game of cards.

  7. I do not think that Beatty had any idea that Montag would turn the flamethrower on him. Beatty obviously appreciated life and having more knowledge then others because he can read books and no one will say anything about it. Montag turning the flamethrower on Beatty was a complete curveball that I believe no one expected. If Beatty really did have a death wish because of his guilt of burning books, I believe he would have taken his own life in a much more painless way then handing Montag a flamethrower and hoping that Montag would burn him to death.

  8. I really like Emma’s idea that Beatty craves power. He most definitely reads the books, and as a result he has an advantage over most everyone else when it comes to knowledge, because, supposedly, nobody else is able to read books. It is clear that Beatty enjoys being in charge, and I feel like he gave Montag the flamethrower at the end as another way to taunt him. I don’t really think Beatty expected Montag to kill him, but maybe he privately thinks he would be better off if that were to be the outcome. As a man of power, he has had a lot of pressure put on him over the years. If the theory that he secretly loves books is correct, then he has been destroying something he truly cares about for a long time and maybe it is finally unbearable.

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