In Fahrenheit 451, it states "But remember that the Captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy to truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority. Oh, God, the terrible tyranny of the majority." Why is this passage important?
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Several reasons for the importance of this passage:
- It tells us more about Faber's character (both the character himself, as well as his morals and opinions)
- It tells us, or reminds us, that Beatty is simply another facet of society
- It reiterates the narrative conflict of "man vs society"
This quote is delivered by Faber to Montag, through the Seashell Radio that Faber provided him with in order to give him secret guidance, at least in part to help him resist his own admitted weakness against Beatty's forceful personality. Basically, Montag is concerned that he's been "asleep" for too long, and Beatty has the ability to make him forget his convictions and return to the complacent and obedient way of life he had been leading.
Beatty does attempt to do so, in this instance by suggesting that books are betrayers, and insinuating that while Montag believes that he has righteousness on his side, he's really just had a taste of things and is now drunk with power. Beatty relates a dream wherein Montag, flush with knowledge from books, spouts quotes nonsensically while Beatty "parries them all"--another subtle indicator and warning that Beatty knows what Montag is up to, and that Beatty is not only better read but neither fooled nor intimidated by Montag's intentions.
After Beatty says his piece, Faber says that he (Faber) will speak his own, in time, and then Montag must decide for himself. But, Faber reminds him, Beatty is part of the masses, the majority, and it's very clear from Faber's personal history what he thinks that means. When Faber lists the three things that he thinks society has lost, it's clear that part of his argument hinges upon the perception that society has lost the will to be uncomfortable, and has gone so far as to criminalize anything and anyone that threatens the monotonous gratification it enjoys.
However, we can hardly hold Faber alone in this perception; Beatty had previously touted himself and all firemen as defenders of the public and keepers of the peace; what are they if not part of the majority, albeit a more educated and conscious facet of it? Firemen, or at least Beatty, are the part of the majority that is self-aware, knowing that the rest of the majority needs silent caretakers to ensure its continued survival. As Beatty reminds and chastises Montag, what are a few burned books compared to an atomic war?
Only a few pages after this confrontation, while on a call, Beatty again reminds Montag, "here we go to keep the world happy!"
We don't get much of a glimpse of other people to substantiate Faber's statement, but it seems true enough. Mildred goes through life practically anesthetized, led on by her parlor programs. The people on the subway, while Montag is riding to Faber's house, seem entranced by a simple commercial. Clarisse comments on how people seem incapable of pausing and reflecting on the world for what it is, or finding pleasure in simple things. Montag comments on feeling like he's been wandering through life without any real idea of what he's doing or why.
In essence, the world has descended into a sort of false democracy; the majority still rules, but the majority is led by masters so obvious to the critical onlooker that the legitimacy of that democracy is invalidated. By appealing to and over-stimulating the common human desire for comfort and pleasure, the majority has become one ruled by basic instincts, and because antagonism to those instincts suggests a threat, dissent is not only criminal, but deadly, in the perceptions of the tyrannical majority. This future society has found a way to combine the worst parts of politics with the worst parts of human nature, disguising mob rule and entitled hedonism as a utopia.
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