Student Question

What is the meaning of Beatty's quote about books in Fahrenheit 451?

"What traitors books can be! You think they're backing you up, and they turn on you. Others can use them, too, and there you are, lost in the middle of the moor, in a great welter of nouns and verbs and adjectives."

Expert Answers

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Beatty is suggesting that books are animate, personifying them as beings with minds of their own and the ability to "turn" on readers. This concept is used often in debates and can be supported when considering perceptions. While I might read and interpret a book a certain way, you might disagree with my interpretation. The same book could support both viewpoints, simply by the nature of interpretation. Someone writing an essay in favor of the death penalty, for instance, might use the same text as a person who writes an essay to oppose it; Beatty is essentially bemoaning this possibility, with the addition of his opinion that a person can become "lost" in the words--the nouns, verbs, and adjectives--that comprise the text. Beatty's perception of books here is how he justifies the burning of them. They are, to him, two-faced and essentially evil, and therefore deserve to be burned. This affects Montag in his process of thought, a major theme, which is how he changes throughout the book--his thinking is altered based on his initial meeting with Clarisse, and by the time Beatty reaches him, Montag is finished with book burning.

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