What does Beatty's "history lesson" infer about the true nature of censorship in Montag's society as described in Ray Bradbury's novel, Fahrenheit 451?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, at first Beatty says that Benjamin Franklin was the one who started book burnings. He did help organize the first fire company in Philadelphia, but not book burning.

Union Fire Company, sometimes called Benjamin Franklin's Bucket Brigade, was a volunteer fire department formed in Philadelphia in 1736 with the assistance of Benjamin Franklin.

When Beatty shows up at the Montag house when Guy stays home "sick," Beatty gives Mildred and Guy a history lesson about the start of book burnings.

Beatty seems to ramble at first, citing the Civil War, but then jumps ahead to photography, motion pictures, the early twentieth-century, radio and television. Books came onto the scene, and people liked them "here, there and everywhere"—around the world. The problem seems to have appeared when books were "dumbed-down"—they became "paste-pudding normal." The quality of books began to fail as life sped up: they were condensed—shortened to be told in fifteen minutes or less.

But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet (you know the title, certainly, Montag; it is probably only a faint rumor of a title to you, Mrs. Montag) whose sole knowledge, as I say, of Hamlet was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: now at last you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbors.

Beatty goes on. It seemed that the shorter the stories became and the faster the world moved along, things that mattered—regarding language and society—changed, but not for the better.  He infers that people were unhappy with this. The Government's message, however, is: Why think when things can be done automatically for you with the flip of a switch?

School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored...Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?

Beatty insists that as things changed: "The mind drinks less and less." The only things the public wanted were comic books and the "three-dimensional sex magazines." Beatty claims that the Government was not responsible at all for censorship—but this is the propaganda (just one aspect) that the Government has been feeding people to become mindless like Mildred, and make individuals like Montag, Faber, Clarisse and others like them (free-thinkers) dangerous to the Government's plan to control the minds of society.

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, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions or trade journals.

Beatty is just one of many who repeats the rhetoric that numbs people's brains. Mildred is just one person who accepts everything the Government says. And Montag is one who learns, as once said by Thomas Jefferson, "I cannot live without books."

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Fahrenheit 451

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