In Fahrenheit 451, why did Montag think that Beatty wanted to die?

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At the beginning of part 3 of the dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Captain Beatty takes the protagonist, Montag, to Montag's own house and orders him to burn it down. Montag has been hiding books and reading, and Beatty judges that Montag has gone too far when he reads poetry to his wife and her friends. Montag obeys Beatty's order and sets fire to his house. However, after his house is burned and fallen in, Beatty continues to taunt him. When he finds the earpiece that Faber has been using to communicate with Montag, Beatty says that he will track Faber down and arrest him too. That is the point at which Montag turns the flamethrower on Beatty and burns him to death.

Once Beatty is dead and he has knocked out the other two firemen on the scene and destroyed the mechanical hound, Montag comes to an abrupt realization that Beatty wanted to die.

In the middle of the crying Montag knew it for the truth. Beatty had wanted to die. He had just stood there, not really trying to save himself, just stood there, joking, needling, thought Montag ...

Bradbury does not explain why Montag thinks that Beatty wanted to die. It is not expressed by the author as a definitive fact, but rather as an abrupt realization that Montag comes to. However, if we see it from Montag's point of view, we understand that Montag's life has been completely changed by the books that he has come to read and cherish. He has rebelled against his former life of conformity to the system and has allowed the thoughts he has discovered in books to change his entire way of thinking.

Beatty, too, confessed that he read many books. He made a decision to go in the opposite direction, though. Instead of yielding to the insight that books imparted, he clung to the system that destroyed them. This made Beatty torn between the freedom of thought represented by books and the bondage of ignorance represented by destroying them. His hypocrisy must have torn him apart. He must have longed for death because he could not reconcile what he read in books with the sordid life he was living.

It is also important to consider that when Montag has this realization about Beatty, he has just committed murder. It's possible that believing Beatty longed for death is also self-justification for killing his former boss.

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In Part Three, Captain Beatty attempts to arrest Montag after forcing him to burn his home and book collection. Before Captain Beatty can arrest Montag, Montag aims his flamethrower at him and threatens to kill him. Instead of cautiously attempting to quell the situation and allow Montag to run free, Captain Beatty continues to badger and irritate Montag. Captain Beatty encourages Montag to pull the trigger as he quotes Shakespeare and criticizes the literary world. When Montag can no longer take Captain Beatty's comments and presence, he pulls the trigger and kills him. Shortly after Montag kills Captain Beatty, he thinks to himself that Beatty actually wanted to die. Montag thinks to himself,

Beatty had wanted to die. He had just stood there, not really trying to save himself, just stood there, joking, needling, thought Montag, and the thought was enough to stifle his sobbing and let him pause for air. How strange, strange, to want to die so much that you let a man walk around armed and then instead of shutting up and staying alive, you go on yelling at people and making fun of them until you get them mad, and then.... (Bradbury, 57).

Montag believes that Captain Beatty wanted to die, because he continued to provoke him despite the fact that he was armed and dangerous. Captain Beatty's refusal to walk away or back down influence Montag's belief that he wanted to die. Beatty's willingness to die reflects the destructive nature of their dystopian society, where people commit suicide everyday and are sick of living mundane, meaningless lives. Beatty's love for literature, his failure to comprehend the universe, and the destructive nature of his job affect his decision to provoke Montag in Part Three.

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Beatty wanted to die because he felt that life was not worth living.  In Montag’s world, people committed suicide constantly.  Beatty was more intelligent and more aware than most.  He knew that the world was pointless.  He had read the books. He taunted Montag with them.  He knew what was happening, and did not try to stop it.  When Mildred called an alarm in on Montag, Beatty took a kind of sadistic glee in it.  He did not try to evade Montag when he turned on Beatty.

Although Montag was broken up about turning his flamethrower on Beatty and killing him, he realized that Beatty had wanted to die, just like everyone else.  This is why he did not try to stop Montag.

Beatty had wanted to die. He had just stood there, not really trying to save himself, just stood there, joking, needling … How strange, strange, to want to die so much that you let a man walk around armed and then instead of shutting up and staying alive, you go on yelling at people and making fun of them until you get them mad, and then .... (Part III) 

Knowing that Beatty had wanted to die and had goaded him does not make Montag feel much better.  He never wanted to kill a man.  Montag feels that there is more to life.  He reacts differently to the emptiness than the people who commit suicide.  He decides to seek out the book people and find out what more the world has to offer. (He has to outrun the Mechanical Hound first.)  He makes it just in time, because just after he gets out his city is bombed.

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