Beatty tells Montag that firemen are "custodians of peace of mind" and that they stand against "those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought." How well are firemen...

Beatty tells Montag that firemen are "custodians of peace of mind" and that they stand against "those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought." How well are firemen accomplishing these objectives? Are conflicting ideas the only source of unhappiness in their society? What other sources might there be? Can conflicting ideas exist even without books that have been destroyed and outlawed?

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vanertc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Beatty argues people are happy because they are now all equal socially and intellectually, meaning they never have to feel inferior or think for themselves. Most people in Bradbury’s futuristic America seem to go along with this way of life, watching the TV walls, filling their heads “so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with [meaningless] information.” People seem happy enough to drive their cars too fast and run over animals, and send their kids away to school and violent amusement parks so they don’t have to deal with them. Conversely, there is also plenty of evidence that by burning houses, preventing citizens from reading books and enforcing the present way of life, firemen are not really giving peace of mind or preventing conflicting ideas.

Even if the firemen burned every book in existence, there would still be other sources of unhappiness. Mildred overdoses on her sleeping pills. Mildred may not know what made her want to overdose or be willing to admit she overdosed intentionally, but she is clearly depressed. Montag notices she has vague, unfocused eyes with a “body as thin as a praying mantis from dieting, and her flesh [is] like white bacon.” Mildred looks like a shell of a person. When Montag tries to get her to think about the importance of the ideas in books, Mildred responds, “Leave me alone. I didn’t do anything.” Montag then realizes people “need to be really bothered once in a while...about something important.”  

This becomes apparent when Montag reads the poem "Dover Beach" aloud and Mrs. Phelps begins to cry, angering and terrifying the other women. They don’t know how to communicate or deal with the issues in their lives, such the impending nuclear war, husbands who committed suicide, abortions they had for their own convenience, or that their living children hate them. The women would rather watch and laugh at The White Clown characters chop each other’s limbs off to the sound of blaring music. The women have only learned to simulate happiness.

Conflicting ideas will always exist as long as there are free-thinking people. Bradbury is reminding us, through this prophetic science fiction novel, that a healthy society needs conflicting ideas to move forward and prevent mind-numbing uniformity. Faber suggests this to Montag when he says, “The things you’re looking for...are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see...them is in a book. And don’t look to be saved by any one thing, person, machine or library.” The key is to live in the world, consider it, and interact with others emotionally and intellectually.

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Fahrenheit 451

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