In "Fahrenheit 451", why does Montag read "Dover Beach" aloud to the ladies?
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Montag is angered by the shallow nature of the women; he says, "did you hear these monsters talking about monsters?", referring to how glib their discussions about real people and issues are. He is prompted to show them the extent of their callousness, how deadened they are to emotion and beauty. So, he busts out poetry-the language of the profundity of life.
The poem is also symbolic of their society. It talks about how faith used to be full but is now "retreating, to the breath of the night wind" leaving only "naked shingles of the world" and how this life has "neither joy nor love nor light" anymore. It's a great representation of what their life has become.
The impact is powerful. Mrs. Phelps starts crying, the rest are bewildered, and Mrs. Phelps accuses Montag of wanting to make her miserable. They are so unused real emotion, that they can't handle it. This is also reflected in Mildred's suicide attempts. Their society is doing such a good job of stifling emotion that it doesn't teach them how to deal with it.
"Dover Beach" is a poem about the instability of life. It speaks of loss of faith and trust. Montag had previously read it to his wife. When he brought the book out in the open in front of Mildred's friends she tried to excuse his having a book. She told the ladies that once a year the firemen were allowed t bring a book home to share with their families and remind them how silly the words were. Mildred took the book and said, "Here read this one. No, I take it back, Here's that real funny one you read out loud today. Ladies, you wonn't understand a word. It goes umpty-tumpty-ump. go ahead, Guy, that page, dear." So he read part of "Dover Beach" to the ladies. He read,
"Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night."
They had been talking about the coming war and the ladies were making light of it. Montag had been trying previously to get his wife to understand the poem so all this collided and the same poem was read to the ladies. Montag was frustrated and angry. Faber kept telling him not to do it, but he could not stop himself.
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