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Fahrenheit 451 | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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In Part 1 of Fahrenheit 451 how do the old woman's actions "spoil the ritual" of the firemen?

Montag notes that the woman isn't supposed to be there when the firemen arrive. Book owners are usually hustled away so the firemen can be left to do their work in an empty house. The fact that the woman is present undercuts this part of the firemen's "ritual." The firemen are intimidating agents of the state who expect total obedience, and the woman's defiance spoils this ritual, too. She refuses to tell them where the books are located even after Beatty slaps her to get the information, defiantly telling him he already knows where they are. As the firemen soak the books with kerosene, they laugh and joke to cover the fact that the woman, who says nothing as they work, intimidates them with her refusal to go along with the program. She "ruins the ritual" by putting a human face on it. As the firemen douse her books with kerosene, the woman reads the books' titles and touches them tenderly. Clearly the books are her treasure, an extension of herself. Burning herself along with her books is an ultimate gesture of self-determination and rebellion against the firemen and their "rituals."

Montag and his wife read one of his stolen books together in Part 2 of Fahrenheit 451. How do their responses to this experience differ?

Montag's and Mildred's responses to the book have very little in common. In fact the only thing the two share is that both find reading challenging. The process of reading and the complex ideas in the books they tackle are alien to them. However, Montag is moved by what he reads, even as he struggles to understand it. He reads and rereads the books he's stolen. He pauses, thinks about the books, and connects them to his experience. When he reads a quotation about how the formation of a friendship "makes the heart run over," for example, it reminds him of Clarisse. His reading also makes Montag consider that his society, with its atomic wars, is deeply troubled. The only time Mildred connects what she and Montag read to her own life is in response to the quotation "that favorite subject, Myself." "'I understand that one,'" says Mildred, who is chronically self-absorbed. But rather than recognizing her own disconnection from life, Mildred sees books as disconnected from others: "Books aren't people. You read and I look around, but there isn't anybody!" Mildred seems unaware that her preference for her fake television family presents the same situation. Books open the world to Montag and fire up his feelings, but they do not do the same for his wife, who prefers to ask, "Why should I read? What for?"

Why does Beatty think that citizens will be happy if they "get a sense of motion without moving" in Fahrenheit 451?

According to Beatty the government benefits from keeping its citizens occupied, physically and mentally, as fully as possible so they will have minimal opportunity to question the social order and will remain under government control. But the government is insidious enough to recognize that people want to believe they can think and feel for themselves. The solution is to make citizens "get a sense of motion without moving" so that they will not notice how they are being manipulated. To achieve this state, the society stimulates the population with frantic, loud entertainment to make them believe their responses are authentic. Other hyperstimulating activities include "motorcycle helicopters" and "sex and heroin." While the government holds its citizens firmly in place, people are duped into a "sense of motion."

At the end of Fahrenheit 451 how is Montag's final quotation from a book appropriate?

Montag's final quotation comes from the Bible, Revelation 22:2. It is appropriate that a book about books ends with a quotation from the world's most widely distributed book. The novel explores Montag's life-changing discoveries about his work, his marriage, and his society through "revelations" found in books. Revelation is also the final book of the Bible, and this scene is the final scene of Fahrenheit 451. In the Bible the Book of Revelation is about the Apocalypse, the destruction of the existing world, and its replacement by a new world. This describes the final scene of the novel. The quotation Montag recites describes "the tree of life" and the ability of the tree's leaves to aid in "the healing of nations." The tree produces fruit year-round, suggesting that the future for Montag and other humans may be a time of growth and creation rather than destruction. Finally the quotation from Revelation echoes two major events in the novel: Montag destroys his old life as a fireman dedicated to censorship but starts a new life as a rebel book lover. The jets bomb civilization away, but the book lovers go back to help society heal itself.

In Part 1 of Fahrenheit 451 what is the symbolic meaning of Montag's childhood memory of the power outage?

When Montag first meets Clarisse, she helps him recollect his childhood. One of his childhood memories is from a time when the electrical power went out and his mother lit a candle. This memory evokes several of the novel's themes. First, Montag's memory contrasts with the values of his society, in which few people mention their parents, siblings, or other relatives, with its tender depiction of a mother-child bond. The candlelight shrinks the world to human size, creating an intimate space in which Montag and his mother feel close to one another. They "hope the power might not come on again too soon." Second, the candle offers an alternative to the society's use of fire. It gives a soft, warm light rather than a destructive blast of flame. Candles also symbolize knowledge; they light a path through the darkness of ignorance, a journey Montag is about to take. Clarisse, who triggers Montag's memory of the candle, is herself like a candle, a source of knowledge who lights Montag's way.

Why is it significant in Fahrenheit 451 that one of the lines Montag reads by accident at a burning is from a book of fairy tales?

Fairy tales are often the first works of literature children hear or learn to read, so they represent the beginning of the world of reading and books. Like Fahrenheit 451 fairy tales take place in fantasy worlds and often include incidents of violence perpetrated by evil forces. The plots often follow a pattern that could be applied to Montag's journey through the novel: a protagonist must face a dangerous enemy or nearly impossible challenge to defeat evil and find happiness. Similarly Montag must rebel against the evils of his repressive society in order to have the possibility of a better world.

In Fahrenheit 451 what is the role of sports?

In the world of Fahrenheit 451 society highly encourages people to take part in sports. All sports are good, though some are better than others. Team sports are better than those that isolate, since they help to foster conformity; no one champions solitary hiking or rock climbing in this society except outsiders such as Clarisse. Pseudo-sports, such as driving fast or smashing things, are also highly encouraged. Sports is one of the ways Montag's society distorts activities that connect people and put them in touch with their bodies in ordinary society. As Beatty notes, sports promote "good spirit, fun," but perhaps most importantly, when you participate in them, "you don't have to think."

In Fahrenheit 451 what does Beatty mean when he says, "A book is a loaded gun in the house next door"?

Beatty and the government he represents view books as dangerous to society, ready to cause damage. According to Beatty books spawn intellectuals, thinkers devoted to raising questions and passing judgment about how people live their lives. Infected by books, these intellectuals can target anyone, criticizing the way people live and making non-intellectuals feel uncomfortable and inferior. For the state to keep society under control it needs to maintain the illusion that no one is inferior in any way and that therefore their lives are safe from judgment. "We must all be alike," Beatty says,"each man the image of every other; then all are happy for there are no mountains ... to judge themselves against." Censorship helps maintain this illusion of equality. The firemen are "custodians of [the] peace of mind," ensuring that the illusion remains intact by destroying books.

In Part 1 of Fahrenheit 451 why is it significant that Montag can't remember how he met his wife?

Not only is Montag unable to remember how he met Mildred, Mildred can't remember either. The fact that they cannot remember their first meeting is a sign of how disconnected they are from each other and their pasts. They have been married only 10 years. Their inability to remember a defining moment of their lives shows how shallow their marriage is and how successful the government has been at distancing people from intimacy and their emotions. It is only much later in the novel, after Montag realizes Mildred is likely dead after the atomic blast, that he remembers they first met in Chicago. Her absence shocks his memory into activity.

In Fahrenheit 451 why is there a law that forces people to drive at high speeds?

Having to drive at extremely high speeds means that people will not be able to register what they see out their car windows very well. In this dystopia Clarisse's uncle has been arrested, not for speeding but for driving too slowly, which gives him an opportunity to see the world around him. Clarisse believes that people driving rapidly don't see much more than colored blurs of flowers or houses, and maybe the billboards, which have become enormous as a result. As Clarisse notes, "Cars started rushing by so quickly they had to stretch the advertising out so it would last." When Mildred drives Montag in their open car, they are going so quickly they can't hear each other. The laws that enforce driving at high speeds are significant for two reasons. First, they are yet another way the government distracts people from the world around them. Second, the existence of the driving law reveals the government's destructive relationship to its citizens. Teenagers, in particular, are dying in record numbers in car wrecks from racing each other at high speeds.

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