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Fahrenheit 451 | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Fahrenheit 451 | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Part 2 of Fahrenheit 451 why does Montag tear out the pages of the Bible in front of Faber?

Now that he has been energized by the books he has stolen and the new thoughts and emotions they inspire, Montag is hungry both to learn and to take political action against his society. Faber is willing to share some of his thoughts about the nature of books with Montag, but he gets nervous when Montag discusses radical actions involving printing books or framing firemen by planting books in their homes. After all, Montag is still a fireman. Faber is also skeptical that books can make a difference. Despite his admiration for books, Faber questions whether they can compete with the culture's multimedia extravaganzas. He also notes that people chose to stop reading books and feels that the culture would have to start over again for the situation to change: "Why waste your final hours racing about your cage denying you're a squirrel?" he asks Montag. Montag rips up the pages of the Bible in front of Faber to shock him and force him to save the book. As soon as Montag begins tearing out pages, Faber physically attacks him and begs him not to further destroy the book. His response reminds Faber how much books really mean to him. Montag's strategy works; Faber agrees to teach Montag and provides him with the audio capsule through which they will communicate.

In Fahrenheit 451 what is the significance of Beatty's extensive use of quotations from books?

Beatty mentions that all firemen read a book at some point, but he has read extensively. He quotes from a wide range of classic literature and nonfiction and alludes to the Bible and Greek mythology, and his quotations are timely and appropriate. He firmly supports burning books, but Beatty quotes from them more than anyone else in the novel. However, Beatty's quotes are meant to show that there is nothing special about books. He tosses off quotations out of context as if they are props in a magic trick. He also quotes from books to reinforce his power and dominance. His arguments against books, while vile, are clever because he uses quotations to rebut every point Montag might make in favor of them.

How does Montag's radio capsule, given to him by Faber, compare and contrast with Mildred's Seashell Radio in Fahrenheit 451?

The audio capsule Faber gives Montag and Mildred's Seashell Radio are similar in a number of ways. The first, of course, is that they are tiny portable radios that fit in the ear and can be worn in almost any environment. The second is that people can wear them for long periods of time, almost as extensions of themselves. However, Faber's audio capsule is handmade and unique. The Seashell is commercially manufactured for the masses. Faber's radio is used for contact with another person, while the Seashell features official programming and ads designed to keep the masses entertained and self-contained. The biggest difference is that the Seashell has only one-way transmission. Programming flows from central sources to multiple listeners. Faber's radio allows two-way transmission: Faber can talk to Montag, and Montag can talk to Faber. Faber's device is made to connect, and Mildred's is made to separate.

In Fahrenheit 451 what does Faber mean when he says to Montag, "Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The pubic stopped reading of its own accord"?

The government sends the firemen to censor books by burning them, ostensibly to protect society. But as Faber says, firemen don't have much to enforce. The public, for a variety of reasons, has decided to stop reading books. The firemen's activities are mostly for show: "You firemen provide a circus now and then ... but it's a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep people in line." Early in the novel the firemen seem frightening, even evil, agents of a repressive state, and the public the victims they are sent to discipline. According to Faber, however, the firemen are no more than actors or entertainers. The real threat to books has come from the people themselves.

In Fahrenheit 451 how does the dominant culture view death?

Death is a subject most people in the novel prefer to avoid or dismiss, and if someone dies, people's responses lack empathy. For example Mrs. Phelps says that she knows men who have committed suicide but expresses no sorrow. She and her husband have agreed there should be "no tears" if he dies in one of the wars. Montag similarly thinks that if Mildred died, "he certainly wouldn't cry." Mildred almost forgets to tell Montag that Clarisse has died, and she harshly dismisses the death of the old woman who burns herself alive: "She's nothing to me." On the other hand Montag is deeply shaken by both women's deaths, a sign of his humanity. In addition suicide has become epidemic in Montag's society, revealing the culture's callous attitude toward the death of its citizens. Suicides are so frequent that doctors no longer bother to treat people who overdose. Instead they send low-level technicians in their place. The technicians who respond to Mildred's overdose talk about how widespread overdoses are, but they neither express compassion nor offer further assistance. The culture also does nothing to prevent death. No support systems prevent suicides or the deaths of young people who are shooting each other and dying in car wrecks.

In Fahrenheit 451 the woman who burns herself speaks the quotation, "Play the man, Master Ridley." What does this quotation mean?

The full quotation is, "Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out." As Captain Beatty mentions after they have left the woman's house, this line was spoken by an Englishman named Latimer to another named Nicholas Ridley as they were being burned alive for heresy by the English government in 1555. The woman compares herself to these martyrs by quoting Latimer. The quotation also offers an alternative view of fire. It implies that while Latimer and Ridley will die, their deaths will have a far-reaching political impact that the government will be unable to prevent or destroy. Like the woman, they take ownership of their deaths to defy authority. The woman's death does, in fact, have a far-reaching effect on Montag. It shows him the value of books and leads him to become a "heretic" himself. The reference to the candle also alludes to the tender scene between Montag and his mother earlier in the novel.

In Part 2 of Fahrenheit 451 what is the importance of the three things that Faber tells Montag society needs?

Faber says society needs quality, and books are important because "they have quality." He goes on to say this means they have texture and, specifically, "telling detail." They reveal the infinite variety of life. Faber also says society needs "leisure." Montag argues people get a lot of "off hours," but Faber makes it clear there is a difference. Off hours filled with mass media and high-speed entertainment are not leisure. Leisure means time to think, which is important to individual growth and which their culture would prefer to prevent. Finally Faber says people need the right to act on what they learn by having the time to think about high-quality information. Faber makes an important link between reading books, which builds understanding and independent thought, and the right to act.

In Fahrenheit 451 what does Montag mean when he says to Beatty, "You always said don't face a problem, burn it. Well, now I've done both"?

Montag says these words shortly after killing Beatty. Beatty liked to use quotations to help him defeat Montag and his love of books. Now Montag defies Beatty by using his opponent's own words against him. When Beatty spoke these words, he was commenting on the need to use destruction and violence to make problems disappear. There is dark humor in Montag's application of Beatty's statement. Montag has faced several problems by this point in the novel and has thought hard about the disintegration of his marriage and his career. But this time Montag acts without thinking, instinctively burning the "problem" that Beatty himself represents.

In Fahrenheit 451 how does the experience of burning down his own house affect Montag?

As he goes from room to room in his house, blasting each one with a flamethrower, Montag says that it feels "as before, good to burn," but his response is now an expression of his frustration with his marriage and his society. Montag tellingly starts by blasting the bedroom and the cold twin beds it contains, symbols of his and Mildred's separate lives. He then proceeds to destroy the rest of the house and everything in it. Rather than cleansing society of the threat that books represent, Montag feels as if he is burning away his past life with Mildred, everything associated with the "empty house with this strange woman." He takes particular pleasure in destroying the life-sucking wall screens, putting a new and personal twist on the idea that "fire was best for everything."

In Part 3 of Fahrenheit 451 why does Beatty ask Montag in relation to his newfound obsession with stealing and reading books, "Why did you really do it?"

Beatty has assumed all along, correctly, that Montag is attracted to books and possesses a stolen volume. Beatty posits that every fireman, including himself, is tempted by the forbidden fruit of books at some point and that this impulse is natural. He can see that Montag's problem has gone too far and that he has had to burn down his own home. By asking his question, Beatty may be trying to understand why Montag finally put himself in danger by reading to Mildred and her friends. If that is the case, Beatty, a highly intelligent man, well-read and skilled at argumentation, fails to recognize how books have changed Montag, who can no longer censor himself. Beatty has possibly made the mistake of assuming that because he has contempt for books and his society outlaws them, books have no actual power. Montag's transformation disproves this. Beatty understands why he burns books but not what makes them worth preserving. His question to Montag reveals a fatal limitation in Beatty's own thinking. Shortly after he asks his question Montag kills him with a flamethrower.

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