Why does Montag read the poem "Dover Beach"?

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apcarter eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Montag's wife, Mildred, invites some of her friends over and this leads to Montag losing his cool and risking being reported to the firemen for possessing books. 

Shortly after the women arrive, Montag becomes overwhelmed by the chaotic din of the "TV walls" and the women saying inane pleasantries to each other. Cartoon clowns and brightly colored fish and jet cars cover the three walls of the parlor, drowning out all ability for Montag to hear himself think. He turns off the TV suddenly, causing all the women to actually pay attention to him. He abruptly shifts their pleasant, but empty, conversation to serious and difficult topics like the impending war, politics and what their children are up to. The replies of Mildred's friends make Montag even angrier. The women refuse to grasp the gravity of anything and one woman, Mrs. Bowles, talks about her children as if they were obnoxious pets. 

Montag becomes so upset at how little the women are actually thinking that he runs into another room and comes back with a poetry book. The women are shocked and confused, but Montag refuses to listen to Faber's words of caution in his ear and says,

"Did you hear them, did you hear these monsters talking about monsters? Oh God, the way they jabber about people and their own children and themselves and the way they talk about their husbands and the way they talk about war, dammit, I stand here and I can’t believe it!”

He continues on to tell Faber that he'll read them some poetry to "scare the hell out of them." The women apprehensively agree to hear one poem and Mildred selects one for him to read. Even though he is afraid, he reads them "Dover Beach" and the poem actually provokes Mrs. Phelps to tears. 

Mildred chooses a poem she heard Montag read aloud earlier in the day and she assumes that it will prove to her friends how ridiculous poetry, and books by extension, is. Montag, on the other hand, wishes to frighten them and manages to do so. Later on it is revealed that one or more of the women reported his possession of books to the firemen, which resulted in Montag's life being simultaneously destroyed and saved. He is forced to go on the run from the firemen, but he leaves the city in time to escape the bombing when the war starts. In a strange way, Montag's foolhardy reading of "Dover Beach" was his saving grace. 

 

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Fahrenheit 451

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