In Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, the amount of power that a person possesses is based on a combination of two things: individual depth of knowledge about the issues and the person's position of influence. For example, Captain Beatty is knowledgeable because he is a well-read, highly-skilled fireman who has his position as captain to make him powerful. Not only does he have knowledge that other people don't have, but he also has the authority to enforce the government's agenda. When Montag asks what happens to a fireman who happens to take a book from a fire scene, Captain Beatty demonstrates his power by making threats in a polite, professional tone as follows:
We don't get overanxious or mad. We let the fireman keep the book twenty-four hours. If he hasn't burned it by then, we simply come burn it for him (62).
Even though Captain Beatty sounds objective in the above quote, he is threatening Montag. If Montag does not burn the book, Captain Beatty will burn down his house. Needless to say, Beatty can back up any threat he gives because he has the knowledge, authority, and power to do so.
Another way that power is used in the society of Fahrenheit 451 is to control the population's mindset through government-controlled public education. For example, when Montag asks how a girl like Clarisse can escape the clutches of society's system of brainwashing, Captain Beatty responds with the following:
Heredity and environment are funny things. You can't rid yourselves of all the odd ducks in just a few years. The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school. That's why we've lowered the kindergarten age year after year until now we're almost snatching them from the cradle (60).
By lowering the age that kids start going to school, the government can reach into children's brains earlier to counter anything that they might learn at home.
The Mechanical Hound is another way the government controls people and demonstrates power. A person's chemical makeup can be entered into the Hound's database, which gives it an increased advantage when hunting down criminals. Not only does the Hound's existence represent the power of the government to enforce the law, but it is also used to demonstrate its ability to make examples out of people. For instance, when the Mechanical Hound cannot find Montag during its hunt, the authorities turn it on another man. This keeps people thinking that no one can escape the Hound, and it serves as a way to flex its political and powerful muscles of intimidation. Granger explains the use of the Hound as he and Montag watch the end of the chase as follows:
They're faking. You threw them off at the river. They can't admit it. They know they can hold their audience only so long. The show's got to have a snap ending, quick! . . . So they're sniffing for a scapegoat to end things with a bang. Watch (148).
Granger brings up one more example of power that the government uses to control the populace—the power of mass media, entertainment, and distraction. If no one likes to read, and if reading is illegal, then people turn to television and radio to keep them entertained and happy. If people are happy watching television all day and driving their cars too fast all night, then they won't become upset with political issues. Captain Beatty explains in the following passage:
It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time. . . People want to be happy, isn't that right? . . . Don't we keep them moving, don't we give them fun? That's all we live for isn't it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these (58-59).
From what Beatty says, a hedonist culture has taken over the lives and thoughts of everyone in society. As a result, the government only steps in to control the "odd ducks" and largely keeps society moving without much controversy. Still, the government keeps men like Captain Beatty in power to enforce the laws, creates killing machines like the Mechanical Hounds to intimidate and kill criminals, and makes technology and entertainment readily available in order to stay in power and keep control of society.