Why do you think Captain Beatty keeps quoting the books he has read to Montag in Fahrenheit 451?

Expert Answers

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

I agree, in the main, with the second and third posts here. Beatty is demonstrating his knowledge of the books and of Montag's position. The point of the repeated quotes is to suggest to Montag that knowledge of these books:

  • 1) will not save you or remove you from the larger system and society (it clearly didn't save or change Beatty) and
  • 2) there is greater knowledge in society than in books.

If books really were great, Beatty suggests, then Beatty would be aware of that greatness. The repeated quotes are a way for Beatty to deride and cast down the content of the books that Montag believes might save, enlighten or enrich him.

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

Beatty's constant quotations appear to be intentional. Here is their boss, who leads them in the burning of homes with books, quoting from the same books he is telling them to burn.

This detail seems specifically important because we know that Montag is reading and hoarding books. At first glance, it might seem that this is Beatty's way of seeing how his men will react so that he can ferret out their secrets. It is, I believe, probable that Beatty not only suspects Montag, but already knows his secrets.

Just before the firemen burn the house with the woman inside, they are playing cards at the firehouse and Montag asks Beatty about what happened to a man whose library they had burned the week before. Beatty is careful in what he says, even in the way he arranges his cards, so we might infer that this is not a casual answer he is giving Montag (which might indicate that he is trying to figure out how to "play his cards" with regard to Montag's interest in the man):

Beatty arranged his cards quietly. "Any man's insane who thinks he can fool the government and us."

Montag wonders what it would be like to be in that man's position. Beatty notes that they have no books. Montag insists—he wonders what it would be like if they did. Beatty asks: "You got some?"

If Beatty had said someone would be crazy if they tried to fool the government and had left it at that, I would probably not think twice about it. However, adding "and us" makes it personal to Beatty. In the scene when Montag sets Beatty on fire, it's almost as if it is personal again. Beatty is egging Montag on, calling him names ("snob"); alluding to Montag's foolishness by comparing him to Icarus when he flew too high to the sun; and, finally taunting Montag to recite from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Beatty quotes:

There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats,

For I am arm'd so strong in honesty,

That they pass by me as the idle wind

Which I respect not. (IV.iii.71-76)

I am sure that Beatty knew all along about Montag. He mentions things about Clarisse (things she said to Montag—he knew what Clarisse had said!), then that Montag was reported by his wife's friends for spouting poetry, and finally confirming that Mildred's report that Montag had books was "old news" to him. In his way, I believe that when Beatty does what no one else is allowed to do (read and remember literature), he is taunting Montag quietly, carefully and maliciously. Montag finally snaps, and even Beatty is surprised:

Beatty glanced instantly at Montag's fingers and his eyes widened the faintest bit.

Beatty tries to break Montag, but in doing so, he empowers Montag to take the step he was afraid before to take (to join other readers), and Beatty's verbal abuse costs him his life.

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

It might be said that one symbolic reason Beatty quotes literature that he has read is that he represents Bradbury's theme relating to needing to not be left alone: Beatty is both the person and the voice of the idea that won't leave Montag alone:

We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

As the quote states, Bradbury's theme speaks of being bothered about things that are real but that humanity has driven into insignificance or even disrepute, like books, in Montag's world. Maybe in our world the thing that has been driven into disrepute is morality or decency or civility or courtesy or maybe all four.

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

I can see where these first two posts are coming from, but I don't really agree.  If this were all that was going on, why would Beatty end up egging Montag into killing him?

I think that Beatty is quoting these books to Montag out of desperation.  Beatty hates his life because he's read all those books and he really believes in them and yet he's a captain of firemen.  His whole life is about destroying what he really actually believes.  So I think he's somehow trying to convince himself that all of these books are stupid.  He's talking to Montag, but his real target is himself.  As it turns out, his attempts don't work and he essentially kills himself by taunting Montag.

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

Captain Beatty does not represent a simple man, or an ignorant one.  His repeated quotation of books he has read is, in itself, designed to make a point to Montag: that he has read every fashion of book and found them all wanting.  He doesn't order others to burn books just because he has himself been ordered to do so, or because of tradition, or blind allegiance, or any such thing.

Beatty burns books because he believes in burning books.

Beatty may also be trying to impress upon Montag that he is going down a dangerous intellectual road, one that has been traveled before even by Beatty himself, and that there is nothing down that road worth pursuing.  In a twisted sort of way, he's trying to "rescue" Montag from himself, and to do so, he must first prove that an intelligent man can come to the conclusion that burning books is the best, most logical thing to do.

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