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A (lengthy) question...
Greetings, all.

I've browsed these forums from time to time and always find the users' comments interesting. I'm always glad to know there are fellow Bradbury-lovers in the world (for some reason, he's a bit looked-down-upon in some of the literary groups in which I circulate--maybe because his fiction is, sadly, considered to be too pulp and escapist--ironic, I know). I've loved the stories of Bradbury since I was a child, and reading his works always freshens my senses and makes me more aware of the world.

I come here, however, with a somewhat odd question that I hope can be answered, and I hope the regulars of this forum will hear me out and offer whatever answers you may have.

I reread Fahrenheit 451 last week, speeding through it with the usual voracity and love that so accompanies reading one of my favorite books. I realized, after I read the last sentence of the book, that I hadn't actually read the Afterword entirely through in a good many years, so I went ahead and read that.

In the Afterword, Bradbury writes about, among other things, the theater adaptation of the novel, describing the new scenes and words of the returning characters.
The scenario that creates questions for me in particular is in which Beatty takes Montag back to his house, where, Montag discovers, Beatty owns thousands upon thousands of books. When Montag inquires, Beatty explains that it's not illegal to own a book, but to read them.

One can surmise from his numerous quotations of literature throughout the novel that Beatty is a well-read man, and he confirms it here. "Books,"
Beatty states, "Were my sandwich for lunch, my tiffin and dinner and midnight munch."

Why, then, Montag asks, did he turn on them so?

Beatty's response? "Life happened to me." He gives a lengthy description of the misfortunes that befell him during his lifetime, the horrors and death that he experienced and the bitterness that resulted, unalleviated, Beatty claims, by books. This, he states, is why he signed up to be a fireman.

As I laid down the book after having finished the Afterword, I began to think. What could Beatty have meant by this? More to the point, what did Bradbury mean by this?

I reasoned at first that Beatty might be lying, that he might be saying that books are uselees in an attempt to turn Montag away from the ideas inside. But Bradbury stated in a later interview (in the 50th anniversary edition, I believe) that Beatty did indeed suffer these horrors in life and thereby turned on his books.
My core question, therefore is: Is Bradbury saying that books are useless against the misfortunes of life, that they really are no good in the face of such horrible experiences as those that befell Beatty? Or, as I hope is correct, is it simply revealing an aspect of Beatty, a weakness of his character that might have been avoided by not succumbing to the rising trend of illiteracy in the world?

The former seems unlikely, of course, but all the same I am not sure. I AM sure that Bradbury didn't mean for us to toss books away, proclaiming ourselves helpless against the storms of life. But I can't seem to come up with a perfect explanation for what he DOES mean.

I suppose some might consider the issue picayune, but all the same, it bothers me slightly, especially because I understand the other ideas of the book completely. Fahrenheit 451 is one of my favorite books of all time, and I hope to understand this seemingly confusing section. Any answers (if possible--I know this is a pretty long post) would be greatly appreciated.
Posts: 1 | Location: Memphis | Registered: 16 October 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Wow! Good observation! Expect a good amount of response to this one.

Okay, here's my take on this:
There is a keyword in your description above, and that keyword is..."unalleviated"! If I recall, there is a discussion about how there is this mass of information found in books leading to confusion. A conflict of different beliefs creating unhappiness.

I recall also something Bradbury discussed awhile ago about an event that took place in his life when he was quite young. It had to do with a time of witnessing the end of the world. He said he put together a few sandwiches, brought a bottle of orange soda, and ultimately was disappointed when nothing like the end of the world happened. Some religious group that he had in one way or another heard of or connected with, proclaimed the end of the world to be a reality on a given hour. Disappointed that nothing happened, Bradbury slowly pushed himself away from that shore of religions fervor and found other things along way. Perhaps, this was the embodiment of the fire-chief's personality now written down on pages for all to read and ponder over.

Even with all the classics that Beatty seems to have read, nothing seems to have caught his heart in terms of God, or the Bible, or 'truths' found ribboned thruout the history of moral men. Not found, Beatty seems to find books bitter. Miller in his book 'Naked Lunch' finds life as stark as the cold morsel of food at the end of a fork prong. He cannot seem to see truth in such a seemingly repungent item. I would say the same with Beatty. Intuitive, inspired insight never struck Beatty's soul...thru books.
Posts: 3954 | Location: South Orange County, CA USA | Registered: 28 June 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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that is indeed a very good question. I would recommend that you seek out the play itself (you can buy a print copy for a few dollars from Dramatic Publishing, or you might be able to find a production in your part of the world).

My interpretation is that Beatty is being truthful. But Beatty isn't saying things that Bradbury believes to be true - Montag is the hero of the tale, and it his his transformation that we witness. Beatty is someone who, for one reason or another, found that books harmed him rather than comforted him. He functions as a reflection of what Montag COULD have become if circumstances had been different.

In the play, Bradbury does remarkably well in making Beatty believable and sympathetic, but ultimately we don't come to see Beatty as having taken the 'right' path.

- Phil

Deputy Moderator | Visit my Bradbury website: www.bradburymedia.co.uk | Visit the Center for RB Studies: www.tinyurl.com/RBCenter
Posts: 5028 | Location: UK | Registered: 07 April 2003Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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It takes a fanatical mindset to pull off a job requiring fanaticism, and this is a good explanation of how that befell Beatty, and illustration of how art affects individuals differently depending on attitude. For instance, look at Charles Manson committing murders "inspired" by a Beatles song when that is not remotely what the Beatles' music is about, and in turn, John Lennon's assassin's misuse of "The Catcher in the Rye" as an excuse for his particular crime. Because Beatty is bad news...doesn't make the books bad. By their fruits shall ye know them, and the like.
Posts: 7207 | Location: Dayton, Washington, USA | Registered: 03 December 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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