In "Fahrenheit 451," why did Mrs. Phelps cry in response to the poem "Dover Beach"?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is a war coming, but the people in the society have no concept of what that might mean to them.  Society has ensured that the citizens do not think - all books have been banned, and the people are anesthesized by constantly and mindlessly watching television.  All anyone cares about is that they are comfortable.  Mrs. Phelps's husband has been called up by the Army, but the Army has assured everyone that the war will be quick and easy, and no one has the background nor the initiative to really think that it might be any other way.  Mrs. Phelps says, "I'm not worried...I'll let Pete do all the worrying".  In complete seriousness she observes that she has never known a "dead man killed in a war", and with the total lack of emotion fostered by society, she declares that if her husband does get killed, she will "just go right ahead and don't cry...and (not) think of (him)".

The poem "Dover Beach" speaks eloquently of lovers being true to one another in a world "where ignorant armies clash by night", awakening emotions in Mrs. Phelps about the realities of war and what the loss of her husband might mean.  It is feelings such as these that cause people to think and question, which society has tried so hard to suppress.  As Mrs. Phelps cries, her friends berate Montag for upsetting her with these "silly, awful, hurting words", and encourage her to turn to the TV again and be happy.

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Fahrenheit 451

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