Fahrenheit 451

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Captain Beatty Character Analysis

Montag's boss at the fire station. Beatty is a complex character. He has committed to memory many passages of classic literature, and can quote them at will, yet as a fire captain he is devoted to the destruction of intellectual pursuits, artistic efforts, and individual thought. Bradbury uses Beatty to explain how mid-20th-century America becomes the joy-seeking, irresponsible, unemotional, and intellectually repressive future world depicted in Fahrenheit 451. Beatty claims he, like Montag, once became interested in books, but he now endorses instant gratification. Yet Beatty uses his extensive learning to push Montag past the breaking point and goad Montag into killing him. After Montag kills Beatty, Montag becomes convinced that Beatty actually wanted to die (though it's never clear if this is true). Beatty is an intellectual wearing the uniform of the intellectual's worst enemy. Perhaps the contradiction is too much for him in the end.

Captain Beatty Quotes in Fahrenheit 451

The Fahrenheit 451 quotes below are all either spoken by Captain Beatty or refer to Captain Beatty. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Mass Media Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Fahrenheit 451 published in 2013.
Part 1 Quotes
"Speed up the film, Montag, quick... Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom! Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline!... Whirl man's mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!"
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker), Guy Montag
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Captain Beatty--Guy's superior at the fire station--gives Guy a condensed history of the United States. Once, information was thorough and analytical. But with the rise of the mass media and the invention of television, information became increasingly brief and superficial. In an effort to entertain, rather than inform, newspapers condensed their articles. The result is that the overall "pace" of human society seemed to increase: people processed information at a quicker speed, but only because the information was designed to be simpler and less nuanced.

Beatty's informal history (itself a highly "simplified" version of a big, complicated topic) suggests that American society as a whole has embraced the tenets of modern advertising. Just as the point of an ad slogan is to be quick, digestible, and above all entertaining, newspapers and books have begun to aspire to simplicity, with the goal of attracting as many "customers" as possible. It's easy to see the costs of the social changes Beatty describes, even if he never explicitly names them: in trading popularity and simplicity for thoroughness, society has become less thoughtful, less well-informed, and generally less mature.

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"Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don't step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that!... Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did."
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker), Guy Montag
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

Captain Beatty continues offering Guy an informal history of the changes in information flow during the 20th century. With the rise of identity politics, the media were placed under close scrutiny. If a newspaper article was perceived as being insensitive to a particular religion, occupation, or ethnic group, that group could lobby to have the article removed or even permanently erased. In general, demographic groups gained more and more political power, to the point where all media had to be extra careful not to offend any group of people in particular.

The passage is one of the most famous and widely quoted in the entire book, because it's often interpreted as a scathing critique of "political correctness." As Bradbury sees it, it's wrong to censor a book for its perceived insensitivity to a group of people, because doing so will lead to a slippery slope in which no remotely controversial opinions can be printed. The end result, then, is that creativity and free speech are neutered, and only socially-approved ideas can be publicized. As Bradbury makes very clear, however, the reason for the slippery slope of political correctness has very little to do with genuine respect for the demographic groups who claim to be offended. Rather, media groups censor their own products for fear of alienating potential customers--in other words, censorship prevails because it makes economic sense. Companies make the most money when they appeal--however blandly--to "everyone."

"We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon."
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

Captain Beatty gives one final historical explanation for the supremacy of censorship in his society: anti-intellectualism. In Beatty's society, intelligence is treated with suspicion and even outright hatred, because it makes the less-intelligent feel inferior. While anti-intellectualism can be found in any society, it's usually protected by certain laws and rules, such as the laws of free speech, which allow intelligent people to express their ideas freely. In Beatty's society, however, no such protections exist; as a result, the less-intelligent can "wage war" on intelligent people with impunity. Books, then, are perceived as dangerous, because they can make certain people more intelligent than others. The inevitable endpoint, Beatty concludes, is to make everyone the same.

The passage suggests that Beatty's society has perverted the tenets of the American Constitution, which argues that people should be born equal (meaning equal under the law, supposedly), by trying to make people remain equal throughout their lives. This is a darker side to the ideas of democracy and equality (and was also an aspect of some historical totalitarian Communist regimes)--the forced equality that doesn't just mean lifting up the lower, but also cutting down the higher. Ideally, America was founded to be a complex, pluralistic society, in which each person brought different experiences, skills, and ideas to the table. Now, with the popularity of television, everyone seems to have the same experiences (because they watch the same programs on TV). Human beings' natural resentment for smart people, combined with the new scope of mass media, has resulted in a dull, homogeneous society.

"Burn all, burn everything. Fire is bright and fire is clean."
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Beatty sums up his ideas about censorship and conformity with a simple sentence: "Burn all, burn everything." Beatty has just been describing the history of censorship in the United States. He fully recognizes the scope of his work as a fireman: by burning forbidden literature, he realizes, he's strengthening a system in which all people have the same experiences and thoughts.

Beatty's work as a fireman represents the "dark side" of his society. People in the U.S. enjoy lives of fun and mindless pleasure--but their pleasure is dependent on Beatty burning down houses (and occasionally burning the people in them, too). And yet though Beatty knows the truth, he still seems untroubled by the nature of his work. Because he celebrates conformity and homogeneity, he sees his work as noble and pure. Fire, he implies, is the "great equalizer"--the weapon that allows everyone to be happy.

"The important thing for you to remember, Montag, is we're the Happiness Boys... you and I and the others. We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought. We have our fingers in the dike. Hold steady. Don't let the torrent of melancholy and drear philosophy drown our world."
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker), Guy Montag
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

Beatty tells his employee, Guy Montag, that he and Guy are agents of happiness. As firemen, Beatty and Guy have one crucial job: destroy literature that doesn't conform with society's standards. While Guy has some reservations about the morality of burning books, Beatty seems not to doubt the nobility of his profession. Beatty sees intelligence and deep thought as dangerous diseases, which lead to unhappiness and anxiety. The only way to ensure that society remains happy is by preserving its innocence--in other words, by destroying all "conflicting ideas."

Beatty's speech to Guy is, of course, darkly ironic, since, as we've seen, it is Beatty's society (the society of conformity and television) that is actually "melancholy and drear." Theory and deep thought do not, contrary to what Beatty claims, always lead to sadness--rather, they represent the only way that human beings can achieve true happiness and move beyond the glib pleasures of superficial entertainment.

"At least once in his career, every fireman gets an itch. What do the books say, he wonders. Oh, to scratch that itch, eh?"
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker)
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Guy Montag asks his superior at the fire station, Captain Beatty, what happens when a fireman gives in to the temptation to read some of the books he's supposed to burn. Beatty, an experienced fireman, replies that all firemen feel the temptation Guy has described.

Beatty's speech implies that Beatty himself has given into temptation and read some forbidden books. (Beatty's awareness of literature and history, demonstrated throughout the first part of the book, further implies that he's a secret reader.) In a broader sense, too, the passage suggests that all human beings feel a natural sense of curiosity; a desire to learn about the world and about themselves. In Beatty and Guy's society, however, the government strongly discourages people from giving into their natural human curiosity. Thus, the passage suggests that Guy's society is barbaric because it perverts human nature.

Part 3 Quotes
"What is it about fire that's so lovely? No matter what age we are, what draws us to it?... It's perpetual motion; the thing man wanted to invent but never did. Or almost perpetual motion. If you let it go on, it'd burn our lifetimes out."
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

Captain Beatty has discovered that Guy Montag is a "traitor" to society: Guy has been reading the books he was supposed to destroy. As Beatty prepares to arrest Guy for his acts of treason, he mocks Guy by musing on the beauty of fire. Beatty claims that all human beings are attracted to fire, because it has the potential to last forever, because it is capable of destroying everything, and because it is constantly moving and entertaining (like a primitive form of television, almost).

It's interesting that Beatty praises fire for its destructive capabilities as well as its immortality. One could argue that fire symbolizes Beatty's society as a whole: an incredibly destructive country that wages war on its neighbors and broadcasts violent TV programs, all for entertainment and pleasure.

"Now, Montag, you're a burden. And fire will lift you off my shoulders, clean, quick, sure; nothing to rot later. Antibiotic, aesthetic, practical."
Related Characters: Captain Beatty (speaker), Guy Montag
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Beatty offers Guy a chance to burn down his own house, which--as we've seen--has been targeted for destruction because of Guy's "subversive" behavior. As Guy grips the flamethrower in his hands, Beatty mocks Guy for being a "burden" and suggests that he'll enjoy burning Guy to a crisp.

It's not a great idea to antagonize someone with access to a working flamethrower. But perhaps Beatty's behavior in this passage is indicative of a broader problem with his society. On some level, Beatty seems to want Guy to attack him with the flamethrower (which Guy does immediately after this passage). Beatty's hatred for Guy--his desire to burn Guy to death--suggests his self-hatred, and his desire to end his own pathetic life. In short, Beatty's behavior exposes the hidden depression and self-loathing of modern American society-- feelings encouraged by the vapidity and violence of the modern media.

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Captain Beatty Character Timeline in Fahrenheit 451

The timeline below shows where the character Captain Beatty appears in Fahrenheit 451. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
Censorship Theme Icon
Conformity vs. Individuality Theme Icon
Upstairs, four firemen are playing cards. Montag complains to Captain Beatty (whose helmet has a phoenix on it) about the Hound's threatening gestures toward him.... (full context)
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...the background reports that war may be declared at any moment. Montag, meanwhile, feels that Beatty can sense his guilt. He says he's been thinking about the man whose library they... (full context)
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...her out, but she won't leave her porch. Kerosene fumes are rising from the books. Captain Beatty holds his igniter and counts to ten, but before he reaches ten, the woman... (full context)
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Driving back to the firehouse, Montag asks what the woman was reciting when they entered. Beatty knows it by heart. It's a phrase that one man said to another before they... (full context)
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...Mildred refuses to have a real discussion about it. The painful exchange is interrupted when Captain Beatty unexpectedly arrives. (full context)
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Once inside, Beatty tells Montag that he anticipated Montag would call in sick. He says that all firemen,... (full context)
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Another factor in the dumbing down of culture, according to Beatty, were the demands made by every imaginable minority group (geographical, ethnic, occupational, religious, and so... (full context)
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As Beatty talks, Mildred starts straightening up the house. She soon discovers the book that Montag hid... (full context)
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Beatty says the word "intellectual" became a swear word. No one wanted to feel less intelligent... (full context)
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Before leaving, Beatty mentions that every fireman eventually feels the urge to read a book. Montag asks what... (full context)
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...that they should give themselves 48 hours to look at the books, and if what Captain Beatty says is true—that books are meaningless—then they'll burn the books together. Montag wants to... (full context)
Part 2
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...rather be in the parlor with her TV "family" and is also nervous about what Captain Beatty would do if he found the books. Montag is more worried about Mildred's depression,... (full context)
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...Bible, maybe the last Bible in existence. Mildred tells him to hand it in to Captain Beatty, but if it really is the last Bible Montag doesn't want to destroy it.... (full context)
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...of his who owns a printing press. He also agrees to help Montag deal with Captain Beatty and give Beatty a substitute book instead of the Bible. Faber gives Montag a... (full context)
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At the firehouse, Montag hands over a book to Beatty, who welcomes him back to work and tosses the book in the wastebasket without reading... (full context)
Part 3
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As the neighbors come out to watch, Montag glances toward Clarisse's empty house. Beatty notices and mocks Montag for being influenced by her nonsense. Mildred runs out of her... (full context)
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Beatty orders Montag to destroy his own house with a flamethrower or get hunted down by... (full context)
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Beatty arrests Montag, then mocks him for the foolishness and snobbery that led him to quote... (full context)
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...to the backyard, grabs four remaining books, and limps away. He suddenly feels certain that Beatty actually wanted to die. As he runs, Montag fishes out a Seashell radio from his... (full context)
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...undeniably captivating to see the arrival of a new Mechanical Hound to the scene of Beatty 's death, and is tempted to stay and watch until the end. (full context)