Fahrenheit 451 Questions and Answers
by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 book cover
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In Fahrenheit 451, why does the old woman choose to burn herself with her books, and what effect does her decision have on Montag? 

The old woman chooses to burn with her books in order to voice her opposition to the practice of book burning. This obviously has a negative effect on Montag, and he is overwhelmed by guilt.

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Unlike most people in this dystopian society, the old lady is not prepared to go quietly. She's not prepared to sit back and allow these so-called firemen, these bibliophobic vandals, to destroy her large, extensive book collection without at least some resistance, however futile.

The old woman cannot defeat the firemen, but she can at least become a martyr to the cause of knowledge. Her self-identification as a martyr is confirmed by her quoting the dying words of the sixteenth-century English Protestant Hugh Latimer, burned at the stake as a heretic during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor.

Montag is deeply disturbed by the old woman's death. But he's also struck by the sheer bravery of her defiance as the flames lick around her. He figures that if people are willing to die rather than acquiesce in the destruction of their books, then there must be something special about them, irrespective of what the government might say.

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schulzie eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The woman was strongly affected by the presence of the firemen.  It says,

"She was only standing, weaving from side to side, her eyes fixed upon a nothingness in the wall, as if they had struck her a terrible blow upon the head." (pg 36)

She then quotes Hugh Latimer who was put to death for heresy by burning at the stake.  Heresy is not agreeing with the governments' or power in authority's stance on something.  The woman, obviously, did not believe in the government's stance on book burning.  She had made her decision at that time. She had in her hand a match. ...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 542 words.)

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bergcar | Student

The old woman kills herself because she did not want to live without her books. It has a negative effect on montag

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