Ray Bradbury once commented, "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture; just get people to stop reading them."
Literature is the recordings of the hearts of men, the expression of the times in which men have lived--their culture. Literature transmutes the expressions of freedom and truth, thus the destruction of books symbolizes an attempt to control the hearts and thoughts of people.
In Part I, after Montag witnesses a woman burn rather than leave her books, he is haunted by her suicide. The following day, he becomes ill; Captain Beatty comes to his house to check on Montag; while he is there, Montag asks why books have become extinct in their society; he remarks on a visit he once made to a museum where the exhibits were
All abstract. That's all there is now. My uncle says it was different once. A long time back sometimes pictures said things....
Beatty explains that the new media made it possible to present the contents of books in a shorter, simpler and quicker manner. He rambles, ironically and ruefully,
"More sports for everyone, group spirit, fun, and you don't have to think, eh?...More cartoons in books. More pictures. The mind drinks less and less. Impatience. Highways full of crowds going somewhere, somewhere,..." (27)
Further, Beatty explains that ethic and political groups had raised objections to some books, so it was easier to destroy them rather than deal with the controversies. Also, if some people read and became more knowledgeable, they would be the "swear word" of an "intellectual" and believe themselves superior, a situation that would cause problems in their society.
"We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the constitution says, but everyone made equal. . . . A book is a loaded gun in the house next door." (28)
Beatty cites another reason for preventing people from reading books,
"If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none."(29)"The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us." (39)
This is how books are a threat to a totalitarian government: They inform and lead to a comprehension of life, a comprehension which can threaten such a regime as it causes discontent.
So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam. (39)
"Those who don't build, must burn" (40)
Further, Montag meets Faber, a college professor, who befriends him. He tells Montag that people would read because they did not have the time or finances to travel and talk with people; in books they could learn about other places, other people,
The things you're looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book.... And don't look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.” (82)
Faber also tells Montag, "People need quality information, the leisure to digest it, and the freedom to act on what has been learned. " Books allow them to have an authentic existence, something that their society forbids in its desire to control the citizens' lives.