Discussion Topic

The significance of Captain Beatty's extensive knowledge and quoting of literature in Fahrenheit 451

Summary:

Captain Beatty's extensive knowledge and quoting of literature in Fahrenheit 451 highlight the irony of his role as a fire chief who burns books. His familiarity with literature underscores his internal conflict and suggests that he once valued the very books he now destroys, making him a complex character who understands the power and danger of knowledge.

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What is Beatty's purpose in reciting passages from great authors in Fahrenheit 451?

In order for Beatty to recite those passages, he had to have read the books.  He is trying to confuse Montag, but the passages also show an inner conflict within himself.  He tells Montag,

"Read a few lines and off you go over the cliff.  Bang, you're ready to blow up the world, chop off heads, knock down a few women and children, destroy authority.  I know, I've been through it all." (pg 106)

He then tells Montag about a dream he had an hour ago.  In this dream Montag and Beatty get into a debate about books. He tells Montag that he was yelling quotes from books at him in this dream, and he was able to fight back with similar quotes supporting the opposite side of the idea.  He goes into a tirade quoting different authors and opposite opinions of the same author.  By the time he is finished, Montag's head is spinning, and he is very confused.  Beatty says,

"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." (pg 107)

Beatty's purpose is to show that reading can lead to confusion and chaos because quotes from authors can be used by people on both sides.  His dream is actually an argument with himself using the same authors to fight a battle of words and ideas.  Beatty even tells Montag,

"Stick with the firemen, Montag.  All else is dreary chaos." (pg 106)

Faber is listening on the earpiece, and he tells Montag,

"But remember that the Captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy to truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority." (pg 108)

Beatty has made his decision to stay with the majority,but he is haunted by his conflicting ideas.

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In Fahrenheit 451, what is the significance of Beatty's ability to quote literature?

Throughout the novel, Beatty quotes literature, great thinkers, and poetry. He admits to reading books to understand his job better, but it is hinted that he is one of the few who hold a position of power and yet keep books for themselves. His position, destroying books, allows him to control information and keep others from enjoying the same intellectual breadth and stimulation that he gains from reading.

"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 dyke. Hold steady. Don't let the torrent of melancholy and dreary philosophy drown our world."
(Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, Google Books)

Beatty is concerned only with the keeping of the status quo. He wants to keep people from having too much knowledge for their own good; it is unclear whether he truly believes this or simply wants to keep himself safe from retribution. Beatty's talant for speaking and manipulating words and people gives him great power in persuasion. He supplements this with his knowledge of literature; since most people will not know the references, they will be swayed by the powerful words of the past, thinking all the time that they are Beatty's words.

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Why does Captain Beatty quote books to Montag in Fahrenheit 451?

Beatty's constant quotations appear to be intentional. Here is their boss, who leads them in the burning of homes with books, quoting from the same books he is telling them to burn.

This detail seems specifically important because we know that Montag is reading and hoarding books. At first glance, it might seem that this is Beatty's way of seeing how his men will react so that he can ferret out their secrets. It is, I believe, probable that Beatty not only suspects Montag, but already knows his secrets.

Just before the firemen burn the house with the woman inside, they are playing cards at the firehouse and Montag asks Beatty about what happened to a man whose library they had burned the week before. Beatty is careful in what he says, even in the way he arranges his cards, so we might infer that this is not a casual answer he is giving Montag (which might indicate that he is trying to figure out how to "play his cards" with regard to Montag's interest in the man):

Beatty arranged his cards quietly. "Any man's insane who thinks he can fool the government and us."

Montag wonders what it would be like to be in that man's position. Beatty notes that they have no books. Montag insists—he wonders what it would be like if they did. Beatty asks: "You got some?"

If Beatty had said someone would be crazy if they tried to fool the government and had left it at that, I would probably not think twice about it. However, adding "and us" makes it personal to Beatty. In the scene when Montag sets Beatty on fire, it's almost as if it is personal again. Beatty is egging Montag on, calling him names ("snob"); alluding to Montag's foolishness by comparing him to Icarus when he flew too high to the sun; and, finally taunting Montag to recite from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Beatty quotes:

There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats,

For I am arm'd so strong in honesty,

That they pass by me as the idle wind

Which I respect not. (IV.iii.71-76)

I am sure that Beatty knew all along about Montag. He mentions things about Clarisse (things she said to Montag—he knew what Clarisse had said!), then that Montag was reported by his wife's friends for spouting poetry, and finally confirming that Mildred's report that Montag had books was "old news" to him. In his way, I believe that when Beatty does what no one else is allowed to do (read and remember literature), he is taunting Montag quietly, carefully and maliciously. Montag finally snaps, and even Beatty is surprised:

Beatty glanced instantly at Montag's fingers and his eyes widened the faintest bit.

Beatty tries to break Montag, but in doing so, he empowers Montag to take the step he was afraid before to take (to join other readers), and Beatty's verbal abuse costs him his life.

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Why does Captain Beatty quote books to Montag in Fahrenheit 451?

I agree, in the main, with the second and third posts here. Beatty is demonstrating his knowledge of the books and of Montag's position. The point of the repeated quotes is to suggest to Montag that knowledge of these books:

  • 1) will not save you or remove you from the larger system and society (it clearly didn't save or change Beatty) and
  • 2) there is greater knowledge in society than in books.

If books really were great, Beatty suggests, then Beatty would be aware of that greatness. The repeated quotes are a way for Beatty to deride and cast down the content of the books that Montag believes might save, enlighten or enrich him.

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Why does Captain Beatty quote books to Montag in Fahrenheit 451?

It might be said that one symbolic reason Beatty quotes literature that he has read is that he represents Bradbury's theme relating to needing to not be left alone: Beatty is both the person and the voice of the idea that won't leave Montag alone:

We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

As the quote states, Bradbury's theme speaks of being bothered about things that are real but that humanity has driven into insignificance or even disrepute, like books, in Montag's world. Maybe in our world the thing that has been driven into disrepute is morality or decency or civility or courtesy or maybe all four.

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Why does Captain Beatty quote books to Montag in Fahrenheit 451?

I can see where these first two posts are coming from, but I don't really agree.  If this were all that was going on, why would Beatty end up egging Montag into killing him?

I think that Beatty is quoting these books to Montag out of desperation.  Beatty hates his life because he's read all those books and he really believes in them and yet he's a captain of firemen.  His whole life is about destroying what he really actually believes.  So I think he's somehow trying to convince himself that all of these books are stupid.  He's talking to Montag, but his real target is himself.  As it turns out, his attempts don't work and he essentially kills himself by taunting Montag.

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Why does Captain Beatty quote books to Montag in Fahrenheit 451?

Captain Beatty does not represent a simple man, or an ignorant one.  His repeated quotation of books he has read is, in itself, designed to make a point to Montag: that he has read every fashion of book and found them all wanting.  He doesn't order others to burn books just because he has himself been ordered to do so, or because of tradition, or blind allegiance, or any such thing.

Beatty burns books because he believes in burning books.

Beatty may also be trying to impress upon Montag that he is going down a dangerous intellectual road, one that has been traveled before even by Beatty himself, and that there is nothing down that road worth pursuing.  In a twisted sort of way, he's trying to "rescue" Montag from himself, and to do so, he must first prove that an intelligent man can come to the conclusion that burning books is the best, most logical thing to do.

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Why does Captain Beatty quote books to Montag in Fahrenheit 451?

I'm inclined to believe that Beatty keeps quoting texts because at one point he has read them.  I'm not sure if it is because he loves reading but still feels obligated to burn them in order to keep his job or be separated from society.  It is possible that Beatty is embracing the classic "know thy enemy" mentality. He has to destroy the books.  He has been told books are no good. He takes that to heart, and reads some of the books to better know why they are considered bad/evil.  Being well read also allows him to constantly drop literary references to antagonize Montag.  Beatty's use of literary snippets allows him to try to prove to Montag that books are confusing and contradictory.  They do not offer answers, only more questions. To Beatty that is why books should be banned and burned in the first place. They serve no function, and Beatty can quote the contradictory reasons behind that opinion of his. 

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Why does Captain Beatty quote books to Montag in Fahrenheit 451?

Captain Beatty, the senior fireman in Ray Bradbury’s science fiction classic Fahrenheit 451 and Montag’s superior, is an erudite individual given to literary references – an especially peculiar idiosyncrasy given the fact that, in Bradbury’s dystopian, autocratic society, possession of books is a serious crime.  Throughout the first half of the novel, before Montag’s guilt over possession of books forces him to flee “civilization,” Captain Beatty is the fire department, and the novel’s corporate memory, with Professor Faber representing a dissenting perspective.  In analyzing Beatty’s habit of quoting from or referencing historical texts, one can suggest that his deep knowledge of literature and of the history of this society in which they live emanates from the old adage provided by the ancient Chinese philosopher of war, Sun Tzu.  Sun Tzu’s famous guide or manual on how to prevail in war includes this well-known bit of advice: “[I]f you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.”  From this grew the oft-repeated refrain, “know your enemy.” 

The key to Beatty’s effectiveness in running the fire department and keeping a lid on subversive activities, like reading, is his ability to understand the culture in which books were once highly valued.  When he suggests to a woman whose house if being targeted by the firemen because of her newly-discovered cache of books, Beatty accuses her of having lived “locked up here for years with a regular damned Tower of Babel.”  He later quotes the 16th Century English clergyman Hugh Latimer, burned at the stake for his religious beliefs, stating "We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”  When he confronts Montag in the beginning of Part III with the knowledge that he knows of Montag’s perfidy, he accuses his once-loyal subordinate of wanting “to fly near the sun and now that he's burnt his damn wings, he wonders why,” a reference to the mythological story of Icarus and its warning against arrogance and hubris.

Captain Beatty repeatedly displays knowledge and understanding of literature from across the ages because he knows that the key to enforcing the legitimate dictates of the government is to understand that books once played a very important role in society, and that they now pose an existential threat to that same society.  When Beatty visits Montag at the latter’s home, it becomes an opportunity for the former to enlighten the latter, whose commitment to his profession may be beginning to wane.

Beatty, though, understands that books retain a powerful pull on many, including those sworn to their destruction.  Suggesting that what the reader knows to be true – that Montag is in possession of a book – is suspected by himself, the captain throws his subordinate the lifeline that Montage will fail to grasp:

"One last thing," said Beatty. "At least once in his career, every fireman gets an itch. What do the books say, he wonders. Oh, to scratch that itch, eh? Well, Montag, take my word for it, I've had to read a few in my time, to know what I was about, and the books say nothing! Nothing you can teach or believe. They're about non?existent people, figments of imagination, if they're fiction. And if they're non?fiction, it's worse, one professor calling another an idiot, one philosopher screaming down another's gullet. All of them running about, putting out the stars and extinguishing the sun. You come away lost."

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In Fahrenheit 451, why does Beatty quote Shakespeare?

Beatty, a literate man despite his devotion to book burning, sees himself cast as Shakespeare's Brutus in this scene. Right before the lines he quotes: 

There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats, 
For I am arm'd so strong in honesty, 
That they pass by me as the idle wind...

Brutus says to Cassius: "You have done that that you should be sorry for." This reflects Beatty's assessment of Montag, for Beatty thinks Montag has made grave mistakes in embracing books, a destabilizing force, to Beatty's mind, to the society. 

Beatty understands Montag as Cassius. As Brutus is contemptuous of Cassius, so Beatty is dismissive of Montag. In lines apropos for this novel because of their fire imagery, Brutus says to Cassius:

O Cassius, you are yokèd with a lamb
That carries anger as the flint bears fire,
Who, much enforcèd, shows a hasty spark
And straight is cold again.
Brutus is saying here that his anger passes quickly. If Beatty had this passage in mind, which comes slightly later in the scene, he too is thinking that he will make it up to the, to his mind, weaker Montag, once their little fight is over. 
But Beatty has misread his man: Montag is not Cassius. Brutus survives his encounter with Cassius, but Montag turns his flamethrower on Beatty, killing him. There is indeed truth in Montag's threats. 
Beatty's death wish is used to justify Montag' murder and is buttressed by the parallel with Brutus (who also wishes to die). But Montag changes the equation in his ruthless killing of Beatty: perhaps, like Octavius and Antony, he has the qualities that will help him survive.
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In Fahrenheit 451, why does Beatty quote Shakespeare?

In Part 3 of Fahrenheit 451, Montag is arrested by his fire-chief, Beatty, for the crime of possessing and reading books.  This takes place at the scene of a "fire"--a bookburning perpretated by the firemen.

Montag aims his flamethrower at Beatty in order to kill him.  Just before he is torched, Beatty quotes some lines from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Act IV, Scene 3:

There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats,
For I am arm'd so strong in honesty,
That they pass by me as the idle wind...

These lines are spoken by Brutus, in a scene in which he angrily accuses Cassius of government corruption.  When Cassius threatens him, Brutus replies that "there is not terror" in his threats, because he (Brutus) knows that he is in the right.

This is an appropriate quote for Beatty, who is trying to tell Montag that he is not afraid of his threats because he knows he is right.

It is also an ironic quote because the author of Fahrenheit 451 clearly sides, throughout the novel, with Montag and his defense of books, rather than with Beatty the book-burner.  The words that Beatty speaks could (and perhaps should) have been spoken by Montag instead.

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How can you explain Captain Beatty's extensive knowledge of literature in Fahrenheit 451?

Captain Beatty is a complex individual who vehemently supports the government censorship laws but also displays his remarkable literary knowledge by quoting literature and alluding to famous works multiple times in the novel. During his conversation with Montag in Part One, Captain Beatty admits that he, too, turned to literature for answers before discovering that books can present contradicting ideas and information. Beatty tells Montag that the knowledge he pursued made him feel "bestial and lonely," which influenced him to join the fireman institution.

In addition to Captain Beatty's prior literary research before becoming a staunch supporter of the government's censorship laws, he may have access to illegal books or be required to read literature in order to better understand the "enemy." The fact that Beatty can quote literature verbatim suggests that he has been specially trained and continues to read extensively. Another possibility is that Beatty has also been exposed to a similar method of remembering complete works of literature like the traveling intellectuals. Beatty could have developed his own method during his independent study, or he could have been trained by government agents in this area.

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How can you explain Captain Beatty's extensive knowledge of literature in Fahrenheit 451?

In my opinion, it is very clear that Captain Beatty has read a lot of literature and must really care about it.  I think it would be very hard to learn the books well enough to quote from them like he does unless you really like the books.

What I assume is that some few people are allowed to (or maybe required to) read the books so that they have some idea as to what they are fighting against.  They need to know the enemy so they can fight it more effectively.

So I think Beatty started doing that but then kind of went over to the other side -- he started caring about the books.

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