In Fahrenheit 451, how did books become forbidden in the first place?

In Fahrenheit 451, books were forbidden as a means for the government to control the thoughts of the public. Excuses such as offensive language and resentment over different levels of intellect, which reportedly made people feel bad, are some of the given reasons as to why books were banned. It was a slow process, and the novel doesn't state the "how" specifically.

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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...

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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, eitherthey 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.

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In order for Montag's society to get to the point where books are being burned, it was a slow, steady process of change. It was people's changing attitudes towards books, intelligence, and other people that led the process about. Beatty explains the steps that led to the firemen's existence (as known in Montag's society). He states that one reason that books becamae unpopular is because they had content that offended the "minorities" in their civilization. Everyone was offended by something in the books, so, burning them made it so that people don't have to read "offensive" material. Beatty states,

"Someone's written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book."

So many people found something offensive that all books should just be burned so that people can be happy; and that is where the firemen come in.

Beatty also stated that their society burned books to try to make everyone equal, so as to make everyone feel better about themselves:

"the word 'intellectual' became the swear word it deserved to be...you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally 'bright'...and wasn't it this bright boy you selected for beatings...after hours?"

So, books made people feel stupid, because other people read them and were smarter as a result; so, burn books in order to create "equality" in intelligence so that no one has to feel stupid.

There are other reasons that Beatty stated for burning books; one is because people simply stopped reading them at all out of laziness. Books got condensed and shortened so people could "read" them faster; pretty soon, they just disappeared because people didn't want to make the effort.

The government went along with all of this because a non-reading society is a non-thinking society that is easier to control. They jumped on society's tendency to not think and used it to keep them in control and unrebellious. I hope all of those explanations helped!

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Your question is not specifically answered in the novel.

If a person can read, a person can think. If a person can think, a person can decide for him or herself whether or not the system of government is good or bad.

The screens frequently mentioned in the novel are a type of network that watches the citizens while providing a type of entertainment/propaganda. Bradbury is trying to warn people of the mind-numbing effects of television. Bradbury is warning people of the hypnotic propaganda potential of television.

Mildred and her friends are mesmerized by the programs they watch in the television parlor.(http://www.enotes.com/fahrenheit-451/themes)

The people have given up their "rights" to books in order to be protected from "fire". The revisionist historians in the novel have rewritten history to show that famous people in history, such as Ben Franklin, have been fire-starters.

Bradbury uses a gross exaggeration to let the readers know that fear is the main tool of the propagandists in their efforts to control the thoughts of the populace.

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