What proof leads Montag to the realization that "Beatty wanted to die" in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Beatty's death comes across as more of a suicide than a homicide. He makes no effort to stop Montag from blasting him with the flame-thrower; he just stands there grinning, taunting Montag by quoting Shakespeare.

Whatever the reasons behind Beatty's unusual behavior, his demeanor is further proof, if proof were needed, of the unfathomable complexity of his character. A deeply troubled soul, Beatty was never fully able to reconcile his alter ego, the lover of books and learning, with the vicious, snarling bibilophobe who derives enormous satisfaction from incinerating books.

Unable to reconcile these two competing aspects of his personality, Beatty appears to have reached the grim conclusion that the only way his tortured soul can be purged is through fire. After all, Beatty had once told Montag that fire was, among other things, "clean" and "antibiotic." He meant this in relation to destroying once and for all the few remaining scraps of culture and civilization as encapsulated in book form, but he just as easily could have been referring to himself and the purgative qualities of fire when applied to his troubled soul.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

After killing Captain Beatty, Montag reflects on what happened and has an epiphany. He is convinced that Beatty wanted to die and he comes to this realisation because he knows that Beatty could have saved himself, should he have wished it. Instead, Beatty made no real attempt to fight Montag off:

He had just stood there, not really trying to save himself, just stood there, joking, needling.

In fact, Montag suggests that Beatty deliberately provoked him because he wanted to be murdered:

You go on yelling at people and making fun of them until you get them mad, and then.... 

This epiphany reflects Montag's views about the wider society: that book-burning and censorship benefits nobody and instead makes people intensely miserable. In this respect, Beatty is just like Montag's wife, Mildred, who takes an overdose in Part One of the novel. 

This epiphany is significant because it suggests that Montag is not a criminal and certainly does not view himself in such a way. To some extent, he has provided a service to Beatty by putting an end to his miserable life.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

After Guy Montag kills Beatty at Montag's house, he is running away (or trying to since his leg is all messed up because of the hound.  He falls down and when he does, he realizes that Beatty wanted to die.

What he gives as evidence is Beatty's behavior.  He says that only someone who wanted to die would taunt someone who had a weapon like that (like the flamethrower that Montag had).  Someone who didn't want to die would have been leaving Montag alone so that they could stay alive instead of taunting him.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial