Why does Montag kill Beatty in Fahrenheit 451?

In Fahrenheit 451, Montag kills Beatty to protect Faber, as Beatty has discovered the green bullet Faber uses to communicate with Montag. But Beatty clearly also has a death wish, as he goads a dangerously armed Montag to the point that it is easy for him to turn the flame thrower on his boss.

Expert Answers

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

At the beginning of “Burning Bright,” the third and final section of Fahrenheit 451 , Montag responds to a call with Captain Beatty. This time, however, it is Montag’s own house that he is expected to burn. Montag kills Beatty in order to escape arrest as well as to protect...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

At the beginning of “Burning Bright,” the third and final section of Fahrenheit 451, Montag responds to a call with Captain Beatty. This time, however, it is Montag’s own house that he is expected to burn. Montag kills Beatty in order to escape arrest as well as to protect his friend Faber. Although Montag is initially surprised when they pull up to his house, he quickly realizes that he had been expecting this development for a while. In fact, Montag had already been tempting fate by keeping books and asking Beatty many suspicious questions. By the time this episode begins, he has already thought up a plan to incriminate the firemen and has anticipated joining the rebellious book rescuers.

Montag had not planned to kill Beatty, but it soon develops that Beatty is going to arrest him for having books. In addition, when Beatty discovers the ear-shell by which Montag had been communicating with Faber, Beatty announces his determination to identify and locate him. He also insults Montag, even after he sees the active flamethrower in his hands. Realizing that he has reached the point of no return, Montag turns the flamethrower on his boss. Later, interpreting Beatty’s jeers and insults as deliberate provocation, Montag concludes that Beatty expected and even wanted to be killed.

Last Reviewed by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When they arrive at Montag's house to burn his books after Mildred turns him in, Beatty hits him in the head, shaking loose from his ear the green bullet that Faber uses for communication with him. Beatty snatches it up triumphantly, saying he knew Montag was in communication with someone. Now Beatty plans to trace the source of the green bullet and arrest Montag's friend.

Montag responds to this news of the threat to Faber by turning off the safety catch on his flame thrower. Faber sees this but, surprisingly, isn't deterred from continuing to taunt Montag. He insults Montag by calling him a "fumbling snob," then proceeds to recite Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at him. When he tells Montag to pull the trigger on the flame thrower, then to "hand it over," Montag reacts by choosing to pull the trigger and incinerate his boss.

Montag had a reasonably justifiable rationale for killing Beatty, in that he would protect Faber by doing so. However, even with that threat in front of him, Montag hesitates. It is only when Faber gets increasingly insulting and belligerent, even though he is well aware of the danger, that Montag turns on him.

Montag had a reason for killing Beatty, which was to save Faber, but in the end it was a combination of Beatty's death wish and the threat to his friend that caused Montag to act.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Part Three, Captain Beatty takes Montag along for a call and arrives at his home. Montag is shocked to discover that Mildred called in an alarm on him, and Beatty makes Montag burn his home and book collection using a flamethrower. After Montag destroys his home and private collection of books, Captain Beatty attempts to place him under arrest. Captain Beatty proceeds to berate Montag for trying to undermine the government by illegally possessing novels and ends up slapping the green bullet out of Montag's ear. When Captain Beatty mentions that they will use the green bullet to track down Montag's fellow criminal partner, Montag switches the safety off of the flamethrower and aims it at the captain. Captain Beatty responds by smiling at Montag and quoting a line from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar before challenging Montag to shoot him. Montag then squeezes the trigger and shoots Captain Beatty with liquid flames.

Montag ends up killing Captain Beatty to avoid being arrested and to protect Faber from suffering the same fate. Montag also wishes to stop the cycle of burning books and censoring literature. Montag recognizes Captain Beatty as a zealous proponent of censorship and believes that he is doing society a favor by killing him. Although Montag pulls the trigger by instinct, the aforementioned reasons explain his impulsive reaction.

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

In Fahrenheit 451, the protagonist Guy Montag murders fire chief Beatty in an act of impulsive desperation. After the firemen are deployed to Montag's house, Beatty reveals that Montag's hidden stash of books has been discovered, thus making Montag a criminal. At this point, Beatty already had a tendency to taunt Montag and bully him into cooperative submission. Beatty is an arrogant, though knowledgeable, gentleman who uses his knowledge of books and literature to suggest to Montag that their job of burning books is not only their legal responsibility but their moral responsibility as well.

When Beatty orders Montag to burn the books in his house, Beatty discovers the secret earpiece through which Montag and his literature-reading friend Faber have been communicating. With Montag having lost his wife (she flees after discovering Montag's books) and profession, and with a criminal charge of keeping literature being placed upon his head, he feels he has no choice but to kill Beatty and to escape. He kills Beatty in order to save himself, but more importantly, to save Faber from persecution.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team