Why is it surprising that Beatty seems to know Latimer's "Master Ridley" quote in Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451? Quote: Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's...

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In Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Beatty's knowledge (and it is extensive) of anything connected with literature is surprising because Beatty is in charge of the firemen who burn books (which are illegal to possess in this futuristic society) and as it is illegal to have any books, the question is raised as to how Beatty can have this knowledge without reading books?

This particular quote is attributed to Hugh Latimer (a British preacher/clergyman) as he and his friend, Nicholas Ridley, were about to be burned at the stake as heretics in Bloody Mary's England of the 16th Century. Here he gives encouragement to his friend in the face of their imminent and horrific deaths:

Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.

This is a quote made not by Beatty, but by the woman living at 11 No. Elm Street. The firemen go to burn her house and books, and she utters this quote—just before she lights a match and sets herself and her house on fire. The quote is of particular importance because it parallels Latimer's death. Like Hugh Latimer, she will die for what she believes: in the sacredness of books and their knowledge, and a person's right to own and read books and think for themselves.

There is foreshadowing in this quote as well...it speaks to fire as a beacon: a light that shall change the world in some way. For Ridley and Latimer, it was defying the maniacal actions of Mary I of England as she tried to root out Protestantism in England. (It is noted that the opposite takes place: these deaths—and there were many—prepared the way for Elizabeth I to ascend to the throne; and to then adopt a less controversial approach to religion—changing the face of religion, and England's future, forever.) In this case, the burning of this house and the woman's willingness to die amid her books changes Montag's world, and may allude to the coming change in his society.

We can infer that Beatty knows what she is alluding to for he does not act puzzled or ask her what she is talking about. He tells her simply to stop. Beatty makes other literary references in the story, indicating that he has read a great deal of literature, including the Bible. For example:

You’ve been locked up here for years with a regular damned Tower of Babel.

On another occasion, he says:

You think you can walk on water with your books.

This is an allusion to Christ's miracle of walking on the water.

Even as Beatty is well-read, he punishes others for doing the same...something of an ironic twist: one would not expect a fireman in that society to want to read books. Montag, ironically, also reads books, but he embraces the knowledge they offer (whereas Beatty does not), and Montag finally realizes he can no longer live the lie—as Beatty has (secretly and hypocritically) been doing.


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