What is the first indication that history, in Fahrenheit 451, has been re-written?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The fireman’s rulebooks say that the first fireman was Benjamin Franklin.

When Montag begins to ask Beatty about the fireman’s job, and why firemen burn books, Beatty can tell that he is starting to question his society.  In response, the firemen bring out their rule books, and we learn that they say something we certainly would not expect.

Stoneman and Black drew forth their rulebooks, which also contained brief histories of the Firemen of America, and laid them out where Montag, though long familiar with them, might read:

"Established, 1790, to burn English-influenced books in the Colonies. First Fireman: Benjamin Franklin." (Part I)

Despite the fact that it is ironic that firemen have rulebooks, when books are illegal, this is a good example of rewriting history.  By taking one of the founding fathers, a revered historical figure, and calling him the founder of the firefighting movement, they can establish legitimacy for their work.  People will assume that this is the way things have always been.  Rewriting history does that.

However, we as the readers know that this is not true.  Since we are reading the book, we know that book burning does not date back to the Founding Fathers.  Therefore, when the reader sees this about Benjamin Franklin, we know that it is not true and we might be a little confused and upset.

When Beatty comes to see Montag when he calls in sick, he gives him a lecture about how society no longer needs books.  He explains how things degenerated into a bookless society, and then a society where books were not allowed.

"Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-line dictionary resume. …But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet … whose sole knowledge, as I say, of Hamlet was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: 'now at least you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbours.' ..." (Part I)

Beatty is quite paradoxical.  He claims that there is nothing valuable in books—it is his job, since he is supposed to be enforcing the law—but he can quote from literature, philosophy, and poetry extensively.  He also seems to know a lot about actual history.  We do not know if what he tells us is true or not, since we only have his word.

Rewriting history is common for dystopias.  The government will take the parts of history that it doesn’t like and whitewash them.  It will also use history to its advantage when possible.  Clearly, Montag’s society is no exception.  They tried to take advantage of the fact that people admired and respected Benjamin Franklin to use his name to lend legitimacy to the firefighting and bookburning.