In Fahrenheit 451, how does Beatty respond to Montag when he returns to the firehouse?

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When Montag returns to the firehouse after being sick, you'll notice that Beatty uses a number of literary allusions. He does this to make the point that Montag was foolish to believe that books contained something special. The first of these allusions occurs as Montag enters the firehouse. Beatty responds...

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When Montag returns to the firehouse after being sick, you'll notice that Beatty uses a number of literary allusions. He does this to make the point that Montag was foolish to believe that books contained something special. The first of these allusions occurs as Montag enters the firehouse. Beatty responds by saying the following:

Here comes a very strange beast which in all tongues is called a fool.

In this allusion to Shakespeare's As You Like It, Beatty is using a quote from Shakespeare to remind Montag that he needs to turn in the illegal book in his possession. He is also using this quote to call Montag a fool. He wants to remind him that the right thing to do is to come to work and be a good fireman, not to lose his head in books.

In addition, Beatty also makes an allusion to the poem "The Triple Fool" by John Donne. This happens just after Beatty throws the book in the trash:

Who are a little wise, the best fools be.

In other words, Beatty is saying that people who think they know a lot about something but really know very little are fools. Beatty is, therefore, calling Montag a fool for thinking bad of the fireman system when, in reality, he knows nothing about its history or its purpose.

What's really interesting here is that Beatty is showing off his knowledge of books. Arguably, he is doing this because he wants to show Montag that there is nothing special about books. In fact, in his view, books are far inferior to the world of the firemen.

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The answer to this question can be found in the section entitled "The Sieve and the Sand." As Montag comes back, he is understandably very nervous. He brings with him the book that he illegally took from the woman's stash of books and also Faber's voice in his ear. It is necessary for Faber to reassure him and to try and calm him down as he reenters the firehouse. As Beatty sees him, note what he says to the men around him with whom he is playing cards:

"Well," he said to the men playing cards, "here comes a very strange beast which in all tongues is called a fool."

Beatty clearly makes fun of Montag and of his position, and awaits the delivery of the book with his palm facing the ceiling. After Montag has given him the book, and Beatty throws it away, Montag joins Beatty and the men for a game of cards, but Beatty uses this as an opportunity to continue to lecture Montag on the dangers of books. It is clear that although Montag has returned the book, the conflict is not over.

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Understanding how Beatty behaves is of little consequence if we don't first analyze his motives concerning Montag. Captain Beatty is clearly a well-read man. Sure, he might claim that as a fire captain he has to be full of bits and pieces, but his continual quoting of literature to make points suggests Beatty has analyzed and absorbed the content of the books he's read. Why, then, is he so all-in with his job of enforcing this shallow, unthinking way of life?  Perhaps Beatty feels he is superior to everyone else because he can handle the knowledge gained from books but no one else can.  He also may have realized the value of the books and the terrible mistake their society has made, but believes it would be impossible to undo the damage now. Perhaps Beatty does not worry about public access to books because, as a fire chief, he can legally read books.  This selfish view would be consistent with Beatty's willingness to let the woman choose to be burned alive with her books.  

Either way, deep down Beatty knows society's way of life is wrong, yet he is defensively stubborn about upholding the rules.  As a result, Beatty is insulted one of his own firemen suddenly develops a conscience about the many problems with their way of life, since he is unwilling to risk his life and take a stand.  When Montag returns back to work after a day of soul-searching (and book reading), Beatty is ready for him.

When Montag enters, the captain is standing there, pretending not to be waiting.  He openly tells the other firefighters that Montag is a fool. Not looking Montag in the eye, he nonchalantly holds out his hand for the stolen book, then throws it in the garbage without even looking at the title. This must feel horribly ironic to Montag, who agonized over whether to hand over the actual book he smuggled out that day, the Bible, or a less historically important title. Ultimately, Montag worried giving a lesser book would make Beatty suspicious. It turns out Montag could have saved that Bible.  Why doesn't Beatty look at it?  We soon learn Beatty already knows Montag has more books; the firemen will burn his house shortly.  Beatty's real goal here is to make an example of Montag in front of the other firefighters, which will allow the captain to save face and keep control of the other men.

That's why Beatty invites Montag to play cards.  He can lecture him in front of the men, show them what an intellectual snob sounds like.  He quotes Alexander Pope: "A little learning is a dangerous thing... shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again." Beatty explains his belief that gaining a little knowledge makes a person ready to go out and conquer the system, change it all.  He says, "I know, I've been through it all."  So Beatty did try to balk the system, and apparently failed.  He couldn't beat them, so he joined them.  All the men know what has happened with Montag and they have listened to Beatty's lecture. So when the alarm goes off and the Salamander stops in front of Montag's house, no one protests, not even Montag.  For the moment, it seems, Beatty's plan has worked.  

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Beatty treats Montag with derision when he returns to the firehouse after staying away.

When Montag returns to the firehouse, Beatty harasses him and is fully aware that he is not convinced that books are really worthless.  He tried to talk Montag out of it when he stayed home “sick.”  Yet he seems fully aware that the lecture fell on deaf ears.

"Well," he said to the men playing cards, "here comes a very strange beast which in all tongues is called a fool." (Part II)

Beatty holds out his hand for the book, and Montag puts into his hand.  Ironically, Beatty quotes first Shakespeare and then a poem by John Donne when calling Montag a fool.  Clearly books are not without merit.  Is he mocking or testing Montag?

Montag is aware that he is heading into the hornet’s nest.  He is hoping to get some information that can be used to save the books.  By using Faber’s special radio, he thinks he can outsmart Beatty and the other fireman, and the rest of his society.  The risks are huge, but he is disenchanted with his own society, and willing to do whatever it takes in order to save what he considers more precious than his own life—the written word.

Montag has gone from enjoying fighting fires and knowing nothing about his society to caring more about books than himself.  He values the culture and the human tradition inherent in the books, and will do anything to save it.  He sought out Faber when he realized that the old lady would die for her books.  It made him wonder what was in those books.  Of course, Montag’s argument with Beatty soon comes to a head, and Montag is forced to take a stand.  This results in Beatty’s death, and Montag’s fleeing. 

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