In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Captain Beatty tells Montag, "You think you can walk on water with your books." Explain the meaning and Beatty's implication in saying this, and show how it relates to Beatty's reference to the Tower of Babel.
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In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, the futuristic society in which Montag (our main character) lives has outlawed the reading of books. And while Montag goes a long for a long time with this edict (even burning houses with books for a living), he is drawn into the world of literature: of knowledge, thus beginning a secret love affair with the printed word. He hides books that he has taken from other houses and takes them out to read on occasion. He meets Clarisse McClellan who is unlike most of the people he knows. Instead of wandering around in a drug-induced haze, she sees the intricacies of the world that Montag has forgotten: e.g., details of the natural world. And while Montag initially thinks Clarisse is a strange girl, he soon begins to awaken to the world around him…and that includes the desperate need to read books.
By the time Part Three, "Burning Bright" begins, the secret is out and Beatty (his boss) takes Montag to his own home and he is forced to burn down his house. However, Beatty is more than he seems—even a contradiction—in that he has a far greater grasp of literary works that one should have in such a society. Ironically, as he accuses Montag, Beatty continually makes literary allusions himself.
"You think you can walk on water with your books." Here Beatty alludes to the miracle in the Bible when Christ walks on water: doing the impossible. Beatty seems to accuse Montag of believing that his books will allow him to do the impossible. In this case, Beatty may we be referring Montag's belief that he can survive in their society even while reading books.
It is equally ironic that Beatty referred earlier, when burning the old woman's house (with her inside), to another Biblical occurrence from the Old Testament, involving the Tower of Babel. In that story, men built a tower to try to reach heaven. They were stopped when each was struck with the inability to speak in the same tongue. And because there was no communication, the building of the tower ceased. Beatty refers to this, saying:
Where's your common sense? None of these books agree with each other. You've been locked up here for years with a regular damned Tower of Babel. Snap out of it! The people in these books never lived. Come on now!
Beatty is inferring that books create havoc and confusion in one's mind. He notes that the books don't agree with one another; with this statement, Beatty insists that unless all are mindlessly agreeing with each other, that there can be no organized thought or society. Beatty is trying to infer that order to survive, one must turn aside individual thought. (Beatty's reference to the Tower of Babel seems to state that they cannot move forward as a society in such a condition; ironically, this foreshadows the ultimate demise of society as Beatty knows it.)
In essence, Beatty is the voice of his futuristic society: conformity is good. Free-thinking is a threat to the status quo. In other words, it is easier to control members of a society in which ideas and thinking are precisely ordered—rather, non-existent. Books are destroyed not only because they contain knowledge, but also because knowledge leads to independent thought. As long as people ask questions, they cannot be controlled.
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