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In Ray Bradbury's science fiction classic Fahrenheit 451 what reasons do the firemen...

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harville09 | Middle School Teacher | eNoter

Posted September 2, 2013 at 10:29 PM via web

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In Ray Bradbury's science fiction classic Fahrenheit 451 what reasons do the firemen give for burning books?

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kipling2448 | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 3, 2013 at 2:50 AM (Answer #1)

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In Ray Bradbury’s classic of science fiction literature, Fahrenheit 451, a book inspired both by Nazi Germany’s burning of books that were deemed degenerate or at odds with the prevailing political sentiment of the time and by the period in U.S. history known as “the Red Scare,” personified by the late Senator Joseph McCarthy, the burning of books and the structures in which they were found by firemen is presented as a routine activity in accordance with the laws of the state.  Witness the following exchange between the story’s protagonist, the fireman Montag, and his superior, Captain Beatty:

{Montag: “I’ve been thinking.  About the fire last week.  About the man whose library we fixed.  What happened to him?

Beatty: “They took him screaming off to the asylum.

Montag: “He wasn’t insane.

“Beatty arranged his cards quietly.  ‘Any man’s insane who thinks he can fool the Government and us.’

Montag: “I’ve tried to imagine just how it would feel to have firemen burn our houses and our books.

Beatty: “We haven’t any books.

Montag: “But if we did have some.

Beatty: “You got some?”}

The job of the firemen, to locate and burn books and the buildings in which they were discovered, is presented as a normal part of daily existence, in which one’s fellow citizens blindly follow the “law” because it is the law.  No thought, at least until Montag begins to see the evil inherent in his job, is given to whether the law is appropriate or in keeping with the tenets upon which the country was founded.  Earlier in the novel, Montag laughs off the question posed by Clarisse as to whether he has ever read the books he is sent to burn.  Montag’s response to the question: “That’s against the law.”  Again, blind obedience to the unjust laws, the phenomenon Bradbury perceived in Nazi Germany and in the United States during the Red Scare.  The unquestioning execution of orders set forth by a repressive government is one of the main themes present in Fahrenheit 451.  The firemen burn books because that is their job.  The job exists because the law says it must. 

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