20 April 2011
Dover Beach and Fahrenheit 451
The classic poem, Dover Beach, written by Matthew Arnold, is a statement about losing faith as a result of enlightenment. In an emotionally charged scene in Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451, fireman Guy Montag reads the poem aloud to his wife and her friends. Bradbury could have chosen any piece of literature for Montag to read as a means of unveiling his collection of hoarded books and his newfound interest in reading them. Bradbury uses this particular piece because the speaker in the poem is expressing feelings that are very similar to those of Montag in Fahrenheit 451.
Matthew Arnold’s masterpiece, Dover Beach, has been dissected and analyzed endlessly since its release in 1867. In order to understand the meaning of the poem, it is important to grasp both the important events of the time during which it was written and Arnold’s personal background. In the latter part of the nineteenth century many European and American artists and writers began to focus on the virtues of individualism and free thinking, rather than the concepts of rationality or religion that had previously dominated the philosophical and artistic communities. This shift in philosophy was catalyzed by a number of developments of the mid-nineteenth century, specifically, two scientific discoveries that led many to doubt the previously unquestioned religious explanation of the origin of life on earth. In his analysis of Dover Beach, Earl G. Ingersoll points to geologist Charles Lyell’s discovery of fossils dating back over one million years and Charles Darwin’s publishing of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, both of which occurred during the 1850s, as scientific findings that “were making it increasingly difficult to accept the traditional notion in the book of Genesis that the world is the work of a creator a mere six or seven thousand years ago.” (Ingersoll) The questioning of the Bible’s stories...
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