Beatty, the Nearly Enlightened
As fire captain, it is Captain Beatty’s job to promote and direct the eradication of knowledge and free thought within his district through the burning of books in Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451. Though one may expect his job to be one occupied by a brutish, obtuse man with a powerful inferiority complex, this is not so: Beatty is obviously intelligent, well-versed in literature, but also completely devoted to the act of book-burning and the structure that supports it. He is more than just than an ardent rule follower, however; his own embarkation upon an academic quest soured and embittered him on literature. He unleashes his own burning anger against books and eventually Guy Montag, an intellectually evolving fireman. A failed, unrealized quest for meaning in literature sparked this bitter anger and led to Beatty’s devolution from intellect to oppressor; he, as a character, traces the fall of society that led to his and its fiery demise.
Beatty’s subordinate fireman, Guy Montag, begins an internal revolution similar to the one Beatty once had. As Montag begins to question the order and structure of his life, Beatty turns from friend to foe, and begins to attempt to crush Montag’s internal debate using a combination of his knowledge of literature and his conviction of its evils; he does this viciously, in order to quell his own inner turmoil. His intimate knowledge of literature indicates that he was once a free-thinking, intelligent, skeptical bibliophile of the sort that Montag is developing into. Beatty’s quest for enlightenment, however, fell short: Beatty was unwilling or unable to deal with the confusion and potentially painful thought that came with the conflicting ideas offered by books. In response to this frustration, he turned towards destroying the object of his mental conflict instead of facing its implications; he is both a paragon and product of the society of his time. Because of the constant occasion for...
Cited: Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Del Rey Books, 1953.
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