Fahrenheit 451: Questions & Answers | SparkNotes (2023)

Why did the government ban books?

According to Beatty’s account, books slowly fell out of favor over the course of several decades when technological advancement proceeded at an ever-quickening pace. As the speed of life accelerated, people increasingly opted for simplified forms of entertainment, like television. Fast-paced living and shallow entertainment worked together to erode people’s attention spans. If people read at all, they read radically abridged books, or else indulged in the mindless pleasures of pulp fiction, comic books, and sex magazines. Society evolved in a way that privileged happiness above all else. Books, however, threatened to undermine this ideal of happiness by introducing unnecessary complexity and contradiction into people’s lives. Books were feared because they brought confusion and discontent. What began as a matter of social evolution was eventually codified in law, with the government banning books altogether and enforcing the ban through firemen, who started fires rather than putting them out.

Why does Mildred overdose on sleeping pills?

Montag hypothesizes that Mildred probably lost track of how many pills she had taken. This theory may seem absurd, since she’s taken not just a few more pills than necessary, but the whole bottle. Yet as the EMTs who pump her stomach and transfuse her blood indicate, this extreme type of accidental overdose happens all the time, and in fact the EMTs must rush off to answer another call as soon as they finish with Mildred. As the reader soon learns, Mildred doesn’t seem to feel much of anything. In order to avoid emotions altogether, Mildred spends every minute of every day either entertaining herself with her televised “family,” listening to her thimble radio, or driving her beetle at top speed to stifle any negative emotions. In other words, Mildred spends all her time numbing herself, and she mistakes her numbness for happiness and contentment. It is this numbness that leads to what is likely an accidental overdose on sleeping pills.

Why does Montag want to read books?

Montag wants to read books because he believes they might help him understand what’s wrong with society. Following his initial encounter with the free-spirited Clarisse, Montag begins paying attention to his own emotional state and realizes that he is, in fact, quite unhappy. He spends the first third of the novel reflecting on the aspects of his social and personal life that contribute to his unhappiness, and he grows curious about books. When Mildred asks him why anyone would want to read or discuss books, Montag replies passionately, pointing to a number of troubling recent events: Mildred’s sleeping pill overdose, the accident that killed Clarisse, the suicide of the woman who refused to part with her books, and the ongoing threat of nuclear war. All of these events contribute to Montag’s overwhelming sense of unhappiness, and, as he proposes to Mildred, reading may help alleviate the pain by offering knowledge and understanding: “Maybe the books can get us half out of the cave.”

How does Montag know about Faber?

Montag initially encountered Faber in a park before the events of the novel. Montag recalls the incident, which began with Faber hiding something suspicious in his coat pocket. When Montag approached him, Faber reacted with fear, but eventually grew courageous enough to admit that he was a retired English professor. Faber also recited poetry, and declared, “I don’t talkthings, sir...I talk themeaningof things.” Montag felt intrigued but confused by Faber’s enigmatic words, and he knew that if he frisked the man he’d find a book in his pocket. But Montag recalls his own body’s refusal to carry out the actions: “His hands stayed on his knees, numb and useless.” This interaction with Faber likely represents the first time Montag involuntarily refuses to do his job as a fireman. Montag wrote a report on Faber that he never officially filed, and in the present, he digs out the report to retrieve Faber’s phone number and address.

How does Beatty learn about Montag’s book stash?

Beatty comes to Montag’s house because Montag’s sudden illness arouses his suspicion. Beatty comments that every fireman goes through a phase of doubt about his work and grows curious about the books he’s dedicated himself to destroying. Near the end of his visit, Beatty witnesses an awkward moment, when Montag brushes Mildred off as she attempts to adjust the pillow under which he’s hidden a stolen book. Later Beatty issues a veiled threat, informing Montag that if a fireman has possession of a book, “We let [him] keep the book twenty-four hours. If he hasn’t burned it by then, we simply come burn it for him.” Beatty clearly suspects that Montag has fallen prey to a curiosity about books, but he chooses not to take action until after Montag reads a poem to Mildred and her friends. When Beatty orders Montag to burn his own house, he discloses that both Mildred and her friends reported his book stash.

What happens to Clarisse?

A few weeks after Montag meets Clarisse, she disappears. Mildred later tells Montag that Clarisse was run over and killed by a car and that her family moved away. Clarisse’s death could have been an accident by the joyriding teenagers Clarisse admitted she was scared of. In fact, Montag even believes as much when he is run down by a car full of teenagers later in the novel. Readers might also wonder if Clarisse was intentionally killed after Beatty taunts Montag about his friendship with Clarisse, saying, “Oh, no! You weren't fooled by that little idiot’s routine, now, were you? Flowers, butterflies, leaves, sunsets, oh, hell! It’s all in her file . . . Look at that sick look on your face. A few grass blades and the quarters of the moon. What trash. What good did she everdowith all that?”

Why does Mrs. Phelps cry when Montag reads aloud the poem?

Mrs. Phelps likely cries when Montag reads aloud the poem “The Sea of Faith” because the poem tells of a dark, ignorant society that is similar to their own. Mrs. Phelps, like Mildred and Mrs. Bowles, has never actually reflected on how meaningless their lives are. To hear a poem that so plainly derides the way they live is enough to bring Mrs. Phelps to tears. Her tears may signal feelings of deep sorrow that her life is so empty, a resentment that she is feeling judged by Montag and the poem, or a combination of both emotions.

Why does Montag think Beatty wants to die?

Montag thinks Beatty wants to die because even though Montag is armed with a flamethrower, Beatty just stands there, “not really trying to save himself . . . joking, [and] needling.” Readers may infer that Beatty wants to die because, like Mildred, he is likely deeply unhappy and doesn’t value his life enough to even try to prevent Montag from killing him. In fact, Beatty may be less satisfied with life than Mildred because he is well-read, a fact supported by his quoting many works of literature to taunt Montag, and he understands what society lost and how meaningless life is with the outlaw of books. Readers may also infer that Beatty’s continued taunting of Montag after Montag threatens to kill him with the flamethrower is a form of suicide: In that moment, “instead of shutting up and staying alive” he decides he wants to die and says what he needs to say to get Montag to pull the trigger.

What is the Mechanical Hound?

The Mechanical Hound is a robotic animal that firemen can deploy to hunt and catch fugitives. It can be trained and programmed to hunt its prey very quickly by smell. Once it catches its prey, the Hound injects the person with a sedative; unable to run, the drugged fugitive is easily captured.

How does meeting Clarisse affect Montag?

Before Montag meets Clarisse, he is described as having a “fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame.” Like the other firemen, Montag’s greatest pleasure in life is burning books; he believes he’s happy with his job, marriage, and day-to-day routine. However, after Clarisse asks him if he is happy, Montag feels “his smile slide away, melt, fold over and down on itself . . . [h]e was not happy. He was not happy. He said the words to himself. He recognized this as the true state of affairs.” Clarisse awakens something inside of Montag that he didn’t know was there—a hunger, an emptiness, a longing for something real and meaningful. Montag grinned before he met Clarisse, but that early grin was an expression of ignorance and power, not an expression of true happiness.

Why can’t Montag and Mildred remember how they met?

The fact that a married couple who has been together for ten years can’t remember when or where they met shows the indifference to the past and to relationships that most people in theFahrenheit 451society have. In fact, their society with its ban on books and emphasis on being constantly distracted seems to be designed to prevent relationships from deepening and holding more meaning than a superficial bond. In addition, Mildred is more concerned with being constantly entertained and keeping up with her television “family” than thinking about her own husband and her memories with him. When they try to remember their past together, Mildred avoids the stress and pain of the topic by stating, “It doesn’t matter” and then going into the bathroom to swallow several pills. It is only when Montag sees the city destroyed and he pictures Mildred’s death that he remembers they met in Chicago.

Why does Montag say that he feels like he’s “putting on weight”?

Montag says he feels like he’s “putting on weight” when he becomes curious about reading books. He can’t quite articulate what is happening to him but later reveals to Faber that he “could feel it for a long time, [he] was saving something up,” that he had this curiosity inside him even before he could admit it to himself. Montag remarks that it’s “a wonder it didn’t show on me, like fat.” His body somehow must feel the hunger and weight of wanting more, needing what books have to offer, before his mind can acknowledge and understand the meaning of such feelings.

Why don’t the characters in Fahrenheit 451 want to have children?

The fact that most characters in the novel, including Mildred and Montag, don’t want children is another example of the dearth of interpersonal relationships and the level of people’s vanity and self-centeredness. Mrs. Phelps describes children as “ruinous,” and Mrs. Bowles says she would only have her children by Caesarean section, claiming that a baby is not worth “going through all that agony.” Taking care of children would take away from the vapid activities with which people fill their days.

Why does Faber consider himself a coward?

When Faber and Montag meet for the first time in the novel, Faber says he is a coward because he “saw the way things were going, a long time back” and yet he “said nothing.” Even though Faber privately rebels against the government by owning books and creating his own technology, he feels that he did not do enough to save society from its ruin. It is only because of Montag's influence that Faber finally finds the courage to truly rebel.

Why are people so violent in Fahrenheit 451?

The amount of casual violence in the novel’s society shows how deeply unsatisfied people are with their lives, even when they trick themselves into believing they are happy. Clarisse tells Montag how many of her friends have been killed, either by shootings or joyriding cars. Violence is the only outlet people feel they have to express their anger, frustration, and unhappiness.


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