What is significant about the "Dover Beach" lines that Montag reads to Mildred and her friends?

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Montag has a discussion with his wife's friends, Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Bowles, about their husbands and families. Both women show disinterest in their husbands' welfare, which also shows how their society views personal relationships and families. For example, Mrs. Phelps isn't worried her husband, Pete, was called up for a "quick" war in the army. She says she will just let him do the worrying. Then, Montag asks Mrs. Phelps about the children she doesn't have because she has had abortions. His motivation behind this question is to see if Mrs. Phelps has any remorse for them. She doesn't. Mrs. Bowles chimes in about her two children, but she doesn't have anything amorous to say about them. The two women clearly demonstrate the lack of feeling and emotion the society as a whole has for families. When Mrs. Phelps provokes Montag to read a poem, he willingly shares "Dover Beach."

The poem "Dover Beach" is significant because it addresses the topic of love, which these women—and the society in which they live—lack. The first line declares love should be loyal between the people who share it. Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Bowles's statements about their families demonstrate they do not follow that line.

The rest of the poem is significant because it brings up the topic of war, which the characters are facing at the moment. The poem states that the world may seem beautiful, but it really doesn't have joy, love, or peace to offer humanity. Instead, the world offers "confused alarms of struggle and flight,/ Where ignorant armies clash by night" (100). The end of the poem reminds Mrs. Phelps about the war her husband has just been sent to. Mrs. Phelps's realization that she might never see her husband again is probably makes her cry. It takes a poem to remind her of what she should have been thinking about beforehand—her husband's welfare and how much she loves him.

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The poem is "Dover Beach," by Matthew Arnold, and is a well-loved and often-quoted piece. It is likely that Montag grabs the book at random, since he has not had time to read and comprehend every book in his collection, but it turns out to be very poignant, bringing one of the women to tears:

"'And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.'"
(Arnold, "Dover Beach," Wikipedia)

These lines parallel the society of the novel, where people have no interest in larger events, and no knowledge except for what is taught in government-controlled schools and government-approved television. They have no perspective on the imminent war, and they have no thought or care for the "ignorant armies" clashing "by night." Their opinion on everything not television-related is "out of sight, out of mind," and this poem neatly encapsulates that thought process.

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