Why is the Tower of Babel referenced in Fahrenheit 451?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the Bible's Old Testament, the "Tower of Babel" is a structure that people build to try to reach heaven, so impressed are they with their sense of power—to reach the realms of God. God causes these people to be unable to communicate with each other. The project is then abandoned and the people scatter.

"Babel," according to Dictionary.com, is also a word that stands alone, alluding to the Tower of Babel. It means:

a confused mixture of sounds or voices, or, a scene of noise and confusion
This sense of "babel," as well as the "Tower of Babel" are found in Fahrenheit 451, written by Ray Bradbury. The Tower of Babel is referred to by Beatty, Montag's boss, as he asserts that books are confusing, contradicting each other. (Ironically, Beatty demonstrates a depth of knowledge that could only have come from books or speaking with those who have read books: yet still he burns books. E.g., how does Beatty know enough to even refer to the Tower of Babel, information which comes from a book?) Beatty references the Tower of Babel as he tries to reason with the woman whose house and books they are burning:
Where's your common sense? None of these books agree with each other. You've been locked up here for years with a regular damned Tower of Babel. Snap  out of it! The people in these books never lived. Come on now!
However, the sense of "babel" in the story would also allude to a deeper theme: that the people of this community are not encouraged to share ideas, nor are they encouraged to participate in the developing original thought. Their thoughts are controlled: their ideas are manipulated in the direction in which the government wants them to move. When listening to Mildred and Montag speak, it is indeed like he peopkle in the Bible who have no real basis of communication. It may be mostly for this reason that Montag feels so disconnected from Mildred. For example, Mildred is completely "brainwashed" in pouring over the telecasts from the three screens in the living room. (People are encouraged to conform, and Mildred is happy to do so.) Mildred describes a new show where the viewer can participate, however that participation is nothing more than agreeing with the rhetoric provided in the script—there is no room for interpretation or questions.
'When it comes time for the missing lines, they all look at me out of the three walls and I say the lines..."What do you think of this whole idea, Helen?" And I say—' She paused and ran her finger under a line on the script. 'I think that's fine!...' And then they go on with the play until he says, 'Do you agree with that, Helen?' and I say, 'I sure do!.' Isn't that fun, Guy?" He stood in the hall looking at her.
Mildred's "canned" responses agree with what society is trying to impart in the "programming" presented in these shows on the screens. Ask no questions; agree with the propaganda. Guy cannot see any sense in this "entertainment," once again providing an example of a "Tower of Babel" within this community, specifically in Mildred and Guy's home.
Read the study guide:
Fahrenheit 451

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