From Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, what does Beatty tell Montag about how books disappeared? What is your reaction to his explanation?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Captain Beatty is a very well-read and intellectual man, ironically. As a fireman, one would not suspect that he would know about so many different books and authors, but this does not mean that he likes books. In fact, because of all the reading he has done, he has become a huge opponent against what books have to offer. He feels they only offer confusion and pain because authors can't agree with each other. With Montag, though, Beatty starts at the beginning and teaches him the history of the decline of books in society, then eventually why they were outlawed.

Beatty goes back as far as the Civil War to start his story. He says that as films, radio and television became popular, books became condensed or shorter to accommodate and declining interest in reading. Then people only wanted to know the quick news, celebrity gossip, or anything entertaining, rather than actually learn from reading. He goes on to say that with the decline of quality subject matter in books, that the quality of education also declined. Eventually, people only wanted entertainment and to be happy than to learn new and conflicting ideas.

Next, he touches on the fact that different authors couldn't agree with each other, which also created many different minorities who were screaming for different rights and privileges. People were arguing and fighting to the point of war. In an effort to eliminate fighting and war, the solution was to get rid of books. As a result, society focused on sports and entertainment. Beatty explains further as follows:

"A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man's mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man? . . . And so when houses were finally fireproofed completely. . . there was no longer need of firemen for the old purposes. They were given the new job, as custodians of our peace of mind" (58-59).

Reactions to Captain Beatty's explanation depends upon the reader. Considering today's technology, though, Bradbury has a point that entertainment seems to have taken over the desire to read and to learn. People are so distracted by TV, movies, phones, radio, entertainment, and everything else that it seems like a logical end for books if people aren't careful. An underlying theme seems to argue that technology and entertainment can get in the way of our personal relationships, too; but Beatty would say that entertainment brings people happiness because they don't have to worry about the confusion that comes with disagreeing about different ideas.

Hopefully, society won't go so far as to eliminate books because people want their voices to be heard. People will continue to write stories for the benefit of preserving the human experience, not simply to entertain. The human struggle is real and different voices will always be met with opposition; but, this struggle cannot be eliminated simply because books are burned. Caution must be taken, however, that the arguments about self-destruction through distraction as put forth from Fahrenheit 451 are not underestimated, either.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial