Fahrenheit 451 Questions and Answers
by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 book cover
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In Fahrenheit 451 how do firemen "keep everyone happy"?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Bradbury's dystopian society, firemen are responsible for censoring literature by burning novels and illegal private libraries in the homes of intellectual dissidents. The overwhelming majority of society indulges in media at all hours of the day by watching their massive parlour walls and listening to Seashell radios. Captain Beatty explains to Montag that the majority of citizens have no interest in reading and find literature to be disturbing and depressing. Beatty goes on to tell Montag that when society began to have mass, the minorities became easily offended by critical authors and stopped reading on their own accord. Instead of engaging in intellectual pursuits and analyzing their ignorant society, the vast majority of citizens developed into superficial fools, who were "happy" watching television, taking pills, and dismissing society's ills. Beatty also tells Montag,

"It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God" (Bradbury, 28).

Essentially, the firemen are considered society's clean-up crew, who censor critical literature, whether it is controversial or not. By censoring literature, they help maintain a balanced society focused on media consumption, which keeps the ignorant populace "happy."

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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According to Beatty, firemen keep everyone happy because they burn books.  And, according to him, books make people sad.  This is shown later on as Montag reads the poem "Dover Beach" to Mildred's friends and they end up sobbing from the "hurtful words".  Because their society is so dumbed-down, so in denial about their happiness, making them think on any level whatsoever is earth-shattering for them.   Montag himself is certainly thrown for a loop once he starts questioning everything.

The reasons that books make people sad, other than stated above, is because they have content that offends the "minorities" in their civilization.  Everyone was offended by something in the books, so, burning them makes it so that people don't have to read "offensive" material.  For example, Beatty states, "Someone's written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs?  The cigarette people are weeping?  Burn the book."  So many people found something offensive that all books should just be burned so that people can be happy; and that is where the firemen come in.

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