Discussion Topic

Captain Beatty's motivations, worldview, and potential desire for his own demise in 'Fahrenheit 451'

Summary:

Captain Beatty's motivations and worldview in Fahrenheit 451 are complex. Despite his extensive knowledge of literature, he fights for hedonism and illiteracy, likely to survive in a society that shuns books. His desire for death, seen when he provokes Montag into killing him, suggests he ultimately found life in such a superficial world unbearable, highlighting his internal conflict and disillusionment.

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What are Beatty's motivations and world view in 'Fahrenheit 451', and does he desire his own demise?

Beatty is an older man who is very well read. That means he's read and understands many (if not all) of the most influential books in the western world. He quotes Shakespeare, Greek philosophers, British poetry, and ancient mythology. One so educated and well read would not exist if he hadn't gone rogue in his younger life like Montag does. That is why Beatty knows exactly how to spin the information he teaches Montag in favor of the hedonist society in which they live. Beatty must have fallen in love with literature, and become an expert; but, in an effort to save his life and position in the community, he chose to use his knowledge against literacy rather than for it. After a long lecture to Montag about the history of books and their demise, Beatty says the following:

"The important thing for you to remember, Montag, is we're the Happiness Boys, the Dixie Duo, you and I and the others. We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought. We have our fingers in the dike. Hold steady. Don't let the torrent of melancholy and drear philosophy drown our world. We depend on you" (61-62).

It seems as if Beatty is trying to convince himself more than Montag. It's ironic because Beatty tells Montag not to get drowned in philosophy because he understands it better than anyone. Of all people, Beatty should be in favor of books and higher education. So why does he fight for illiteracy and hedonism? Either Beatty truly believes that true happiness doesn't come from reading and philosophy, and he is a proponent for hedonism; or, he puts on an act in order to survive in an illiterate world. The latter must be true because it seems that Beatty would rather die than live in a world without books:

"In the middle of the crying Montag knew it for the truth. Beatty had wanted to die. He had just stood there, not really trying to save himself, just stood there, joking, needling. . . How strange, strange, to want to die so much that you let a man walk around armed and then instead of shutting up and staying alive, you go on yelling at people and making fun of them until you get them mad, and then. . ." (122).

Beatty drives himself crazy in the end. He acts just like the old woman in the beginning of the book who sets herself on fire rather than live without her books. It is an interesting twist for the main antagonist to die for something he fought so hard against throughout the whole story. He must have just wanted to give up the fight against something that he loved, but had to hide for most of his life. By the end of it, Beatty must have realized that his world wasn't worth all that he was fighting for because he truly loved all of the passages he spat out at Montag and used to twist the truth. But he couldn't admit that openly, so he used Montag to help him finish himself off and end his madness.  

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Why might Captain Beatty want to end his own life in Fahrenheit 451?

In Fahrenheit 451, suicide is common.  This is revealed by the nonchalance with which the technicians treat Millie after her overdose.  It is not surprising that Beatty would just as soon die as remain alive.

Today, we call what Beatty does "Suicide by cop."  Beatty commits suicide by firemen.

To know why Beatty commits suicide all you have to do is look at the society in which he lives.  Beatty is intelligent--he's too intelligent not to know that his existence is lacking. 

Ironically, Beatty allows himself to be killed for the same reason Montag begins reading books--his existence sucks.   

The world they live in is mindless, superficial, unemotional, unenlightening, unfulfilling. 

The real question is:  why would anyone want to live?  

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Why might Captain Beatty want to end his own life in Fahrenheit 451?

An addition to the fine answer by my friend pohnpei:

Perhaps Beatty felt that life had become so superficial, so meaningless, that there was no reason to resist death when it came "knocking on his door."

When Montag first expresses his doubts about book-burning, Beatty gives him a long speech about the history and purpose of the practice.  Part of his thesis is that people prefer to live a superficial life empty of the kind of thinking that reading books requires:

Ask yourself, What do we want in this country, above all?  People want to be happy, isn't that right?...I want to be happy, people say...That's all we live for, isn't it?  For pleasure, for titillation?  And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.

When life becomes so empty, there isn't much reason to resist death. 

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Why might Captain Beatty want to end his own life in Fahrenheit 451?

I think that Beatty wants to kill himself because he does not like the fact that his whole life consists of burning books.  I think that he secretly really believes in books and can no longer take the idea that he is destroying them for his living.

In the story, we see Beatty being able to talk about books at many points.  He is able to quote from books at length.  It seems unlikely that anyone could have read that much just because he is trying to learn about the things he is destroying.

So I would say that he believes that books are important and he can no longer take the fact that he is destroying them.

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Why might Captain Beatty want to end his own life in Fahrenheit 451?

Well, doesn't Beatty know an awful lot about the banned world?  Doesn't he quote an enormous amount of literary material to Montag, in order to say how the books contradict one another and betray him?  Maybe he only plays the part of one who hates literature, but secretly has found that it holds things that are of value or worth.

Personally, I like to think that he's a closet fan of literature, but more than likely, I believe that he may feel jaded by it, because the world it describes can never exist in the world in which he lives.  Furthermore, he may have some sort of grudge against literature, as it has opened his eyes to something new and wonderful, only to fail to provide him with a means of obtaining it in a society that doesn't allow books to be openly discussed and read.

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