"Play the man Master Ridley." In the first section the old lady says this. Why did the old lady say this and what did she want to accomplish?Fahrenheit 451

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Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the first part of Fahrenheit 451 by American writer Ray Bradbury, the old woman says,

“Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

She says this to let the firemen know that she wants her death to be the "spark" that lights an enduring flame burning in caring individuals who want censorship and the extremes of a totalitarian government to end. She knows she will now die. She will not give the firemen the sense of satisfaction of taking her into custody. Their desire is to take her away – not kill her – but destroy her home and its cache of books, which are illegal to have.

She, in essence, is making them feel guilty. She refuses to leave her home and is willing to go up in flames with the house. In fact, she ensures this will happen as she has a simple kitchen match that she will light to ignite the kerosene. Therefore, the firemen have no choice but to let her die as they back out the door and down the driveway to save themselves before she strikes the kitchen match. She does this and she is consumed in flames along with her home.

The neighbors have come out onto the street as this happens. This is what the old woman wants. She knows that some will love this spectacle of death and will feel she has this coming to her.

However, her hope is that some small minority of people will have their consciences stirred at the barbarism of the authorities. Her hope is that their passion for ultimate justice will “light such a candle” that the flames of an uprising against the brutal government will never go out until justice is achieved.

Therefore, the woman hopes to start the ball rolling. She says these words as she feels she is now to be a martyr for the "cause" of letting people be free in a democratic society, with the freedom to own and read any book they desire. Her hope is that people will look back on her act of bravery and change the current society for the better.

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The lady quotes a 16th Century British Clergyman Hugh Latimer who said:

Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.

Later, Captain Beatty will tell Montag (pg. 40):

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.

The woman burned knows her history from reading books, which is the heresy of the future world in F451.  The quote reveals a willingness to martyr oneself for personal beliefs which go against the state.  The lines also reveal light imagery, which is ironic, since she is being burned along with the books.  But the candle is symbolic of an awareness for those witnessing the execution and hope that they will continue the fight of the condemned heretics.  The woman does indeed reap a convert in Montag, who begins to hide books thereafter.

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Fahrenheit 451

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