When Montag plans to call in sick, Beatty comes by to visit, telling him that eventually all firemen question the history of their profession. Beatty claims that everything started around the Civil War and shortly thereafter, when books and other forms of media became mass productions. Books eventually lost their...
When Montag plans to call in sick, Beatty comes by to visit, telling him that eventually all firemen question the history of their profession. Beatty claims that everything started around the Civil War and shortly thereafter, when books and other forms of media became mass productions. Books eventually lost their sense of individuality and became a "paste pudding norm" of bland literature. The populace began moving faster, and they no longer had time to digest lengthy literature. Books began to be cut down and shortened into easily digestible nuggets of information and enjoyment. Hamlet became a one-liner so that people could say they had read the classics, and eventually people didn't want to read about politics, either—they simply read a single headline and moved on. All great works of literature were sacrificed for a sense of immediacy:
"School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work."
Originally, it was not the government who forced people to give up literature; ordinary citizens made the choice to do so themselves and without any resistance. They simply decided that literature was no longer valuable and stopped reading:
"No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex-magazines, of course. There you have it, 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. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time ... ."
At some point after citizens willingly gave up the literature in their lives, the government made it illegal to possess books. A few citizens still cling to the scarce copies of books remaining in their society, so firemen are needed to burn those copies when they find them. Even then Beatty suggests that ordinary citizens were in favor of burning books because they found them personally offensive:
"Colored people don't like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don't feel good about Uncle Tom's Cabin. Burn it. Someone's written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book."
Although it would be easy to blame the government entirely, it seems that people were willing to sacrifice little bits of literature along the way until eventually all the books were missing from society.