It Is Computed That Eleven Thousand Persons

In Fahrenheit 451, what is the significance of the sentence Montag reads about people dying rather than "breaking the small ends of eggs?"

Asked on by marioman24

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kmj23's profile pic

kmj23 | (Level 2) Educator

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This quote appears in the closing lines of Part One of Fahrenheit 451 when Montag picks up a book at random and starts to read aloud to Mildred. The quote comes from the book Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, and tells the story of how the two great empires Lilliput and Blefescu came to be at war. The conflict arose over the question of which end to break one's eggs: those in Blefescu break their eggs at the big end, as tradition dictates, but those in Lilliput are forced to break their eggs at the smaller end as a result of royal edict. There are, however, rebels in Lilliput who refuse to break their eggs this way, which eventually causes a war, as Montag learns when he reads this section:

"It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end."

This quote is significant because it encourages Montag's growing sense of rebellion. It is like a call to action because it suggests that if people are prepared to sacrifice their lives over something as trivial as the breaking of an egg then Montag ought to stand up against the serious problem of censorship. While Montag does not understand the quote at the time of reading (he asks Mildred what it means), it clearly has an impact on his subconscious because he continues reading the books and later seeks the help of the retired professor, Faber.

Please take a look at the second reference link for more information on the war between Lilliput and Blefescu.

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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This occurs at the end of the first section, "The Hearth and the Salamander" of Fahrenheit 451. The quote is from Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. Gulliver's Travels is a fantasy but it is also a political satire of England during Swift's time. It is fitting that the first book Montag reads from is one that criticizes government and society. The quote about the eggs is: 

It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death rather than submit to break eggs at the smaller end. 

The Lilliputians have an ongoing threat from a neighboring island. The cause of the dispute is a disagreement over the way an egg should be broken. Swift is mocking the trivial disagreements in politics and religion (particularly the arguments between Catholics and Protestants). Those persons who have submitted to death have chosen to challenge the idea that an egg must be broken a certain way. Thus, they have challenged authority, albeit in a seemingly silly way (this is part of the satire). 

Montag reads this quote from a book that mocks, via satire, the governing institutions of his time. Montag is also beginning to question his own work as a fireman and questions the burning of books. Like Swift, Montag is challenging the authority of his society.