What motivates Beatty in Fahrenheit 451?

In Fahrenheit 451, Captain Beatty is motivated to destroy literature by his desire to avenge his negative experiences pursuing knowledge. Beatty is portrayed as a jaded intellectual who resents authors, books, and intellectual pursuits. After his negative experience reading books and searching for answers to life's most pressing questions, Beatty dedicated himself to censoring literature. He believes that a passive, ignorant society is comfortable and happy.

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Captain Beatty is the antagonist of the story and a staunch proponent of censorship. Beatty likens a book to a "loaded gun" and believes knowledge, art, and literature threaten the stability of the book's dystopian society. He also feels that literature and critics prevent people from being happy and has dedicated his life to destroying books. During Beatty's lecture on the importance of the firemen, he reveals several significant details regarding his past and motivation to burn books. Captain Beatty tells Montag,

Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide-rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won't be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely. I know, I've tried it; to hell with it.

Beatty's comments reveal that he once searched for answers to life's most pressing questions by reading literature and discovered that supreme knowledge is unattainable. Instead of accepting the reality that human knowledge is limited, Beatty transformed into a jaded, resentful intellect who chose to champion censorship. His negative intellectual experiences influenced him to search for satisfaction by destroying books, which gives him a sense of purpose.

Captain Beatty firmly believes that literature and knowledge ultimately result in feelings of unhappiness and is motivated to destroy books to prevent citizens from experiencing the same negative emotions he felt. He encourages Montag to continue burning books because he will only "come away lost" by reading literature. Beatty's motivation to burn books is fueled by revenge and the desire to ensure happiness throughout society. He views himself as a guardian of stability, peace, and joy. Ironically, Captain Beatty is contributing to the decay of morals and knowledge by censoring literature.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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