In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Captain Beatty quotes history, scripture, poetry, and philosophy. He is obviously a well-read man. Why hasn't he been punished, and why does he view the books he reads with such contempt?

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Captain Beatty is a complex character who vehemently hates literature and is a staunch proponent of the government's censorship laws yet has an impressive knowledge of literature. Captain Beatty has the uncanny ability to quote numerous pieces of literature and uses his literary knowledge to confuse and dissuade Montag from...

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Captain Beatty is a complex character who vehemently hates literature and is a staunch proponent of the government's censorship laws yet has an impressive knowledge of literature. Captain Beatty has the uncanny ability to quote numerous pieces of literature and uses his literary knowledge to confuse and dissuade Montag from engaging in intellectual pursuits. In part 1, Captain Beatty visits Montag's home and shares some significant pieces of evidence which suggest that he also questioned the fireman institution at one point in his life. Beatty tells Montag:

Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide, rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won't be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely. I know, I've tried it; to hell with it. (Bradbury 29)

Captain Beatty also tells Montag:

At least once in his career, every fireman gets an itch. What do the books say, he wonders. Oh, to scratch that itch, eh? Well, Montag, take my word for it, I've had to read a few in my time, to know what I was about, and the books say nothing! Nothing you can teach or believe. (Bradbury 30)

Captain Beatty was clearly jaded from his intellectual pursuits and walked away from books feeling defeated and confused. Although Beatty was an astute and curious reader, he attempted to grasp a complete knowledge of everything, which is impossible. Instead of focusing on a specific field and exercising discernment and perspective, he gave up his intellectual pursuits.

Beatty then became a staunch proponent of censorship laws, and the government viewed him as an asset. The government sees Beatty as a literary expert who is on their side. Beatty has a unique insight into the literary world and inherently understands intellectuals because he is a former scholar. Therefore, Captain Beatty is exempt from punishment.

Interestingly, Montag mentions that Captain Beatty seemed like he wanted to die, which may suggest that the government offered him an ultimatum. Beatty may have been forced by the government to run the fireman institution, and his desire to die may reflect his regret and guilt.

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In Ray Bradbury’s 1953 classic Fahrenheit 451, Captain Beatty is indeed a literate and well-educated man.  He has clearly read, and read widely.  Yet, he is completely committed to his mission of ferreting out and burning every book his department can find.  The seminal passages in Fahrenheit 451 occur in the scene in which Captain Beatty visits Montag at the latter’s home.  It is a routine managerial practice – that of checking up on firemen who call in sick, usually a sign of increasing mental exhaustion and confusion regarding the nature of the mission – but provides an opportunity for a heart-to-heart discussion of that mission and how it evolved.

Insights into Captain Beatty’s personality and history come with surprising lucidity, as in this surprising statement:

"`We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out,"' said Beatty. Stoneman glanced over at the Captain, as did Montag, startled. Beatty rubbed his chin. "A man named Latimer said that to a man named Nicholas Ridley, as they were being burnt alive at Oxford, for heresy, on October 16, 1555." Montag and Stoneman went back to looking at the street as it moved under the engine wheels. "I'm full of bits and pieces," said Beatty. "Most fire captains have to be.”

Note the final comment: “Most fire captains have to be.”  Beatty is enlightening Montag as to the requirements of the job of supervision in a task with an apparent history of creating the occasional doubter regarding the appropriateness of book-burning.  The captains understand that, at some point, a fireman will begin to question the mission, and his supervisor must be prepared to explain the history behind the government-sanctioned burning of libraries.

The question of why books are burned is more abstract, and a great deal more of an indictment of civilization on the part of Bradbury.  During his lecture to Montag on why book-burning became official government policy, he emphasizes what one could today refer to as the “dumbing-down” of society – brevity has replaced prose and context; readers are demanding instant gratification and lack the discipline and tenacity needed to actually read an entire book.  Ideas are boiled down and diversity is weeded out.  Beatty describes the evolution:

“You always dread the unfamiliar. Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally 'bright,' did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn't it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other. . . So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. . . when houses were finally fireproofed completely, all over the world . . . there was no longer need of firemen for the old purposes. They were given the new job, as custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior; official censors, judges, and executors.”

Books are burned because they contain information the accumulated knowledge from which creates diversity, which, to the government, creates adversity. 

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