“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. Breach man’s mind.” -Captain Beatty, Fahrenheit 451
Today and yesterday we continued reading the passage which we will be used to conduct our next Socratic Seminar. If you missed class, and I know some of you did, make sure you have read the passage below (that’s right, I copy and paste for you) and continue filling out the Socratic Seminar sheet, which you can download from my previous post.
Here’s the text we read yesterday and today:
He had chills and fever in the morning.
“You can’t be sick,” said Mildred.
He closed his eyes over the hotness. “Yes.”
“But you were all right last night.”
“No, I wasn’t all right ” He heard the “relatives” shouting in the parlour.
Mildred stood over his bed, curiously. He felt her there, he saw her without opening
his eyes, her hair burnt by chemicals to a brittle straw, her eyes with a kind of
cataract unseen but suspect far behind the pupils, the reddened pouting lips, the
body as thin as a praying mantis from dieting, and her flesh like white bacon. He
could remember her no other way.
“Will you bring me aspirin and water?”
“You’ve got to get up,” she said. “It’s noon. You’ve slept five hours later than usual.”
“Will you turn the parlour off?” he asked.
“That’s my family.”
“Will you turn it off for a sick man?”
“I’ll turn it down.”
She went out of the room and did nothing to the parlour and came back. “Is that
“That’s my favourite programme,” she said.
“What about the aspirin?”
“You’ve never been sick before.” She went away again.
“Well, I’m sick now. I’m not going to work tonight. Call Beatty for me.”
“You acted funny last night.” She returned, humming.
“Where’s the aspirin?” He glanced at the water-glass she handed him.
“Oh.” She walked to the bathroom again. “Did something happen?”
“A fire, is all.”
“I had a nice evening,” she said, in the bathroom.
“What was on?”
“Some of the best ever.”
“Oh, you know, the bunch.”
“Yes, the bunch, the bunch, the bunch.” He pressed at the pain in his eyes and
suddenly the odour of kerosene made him vomit.
Mildred came in, humming. She was surprised. “Why’d you do that?”
He looked with dismay at the floor. “We burned an old woman with her books.”
“It’s a good thing the rug’s washable.” She fetched a mop and worked on it. “I went to
Helen’s last night.”
“Couldn’t you get the shows in your own parlour?”
“Sure, but it’s nice visiting.”
She went out into the parlour. He heard her singing.
“Mildred?” he called.
She returned, singing, snapping her fingers softly.
“Aren’t you going to ask me about last night?” he said.
“What about it?”
“We burned a thousand books. We burned a woman.”
The parlour was exploding with sound.
“We burned copies of Dante and Swift and Marcus Aurelius.”
“Wasn’t he a European?”
“Something like that.”
“Wasn’t he a radical?”
“I never read him.”
“He was a radical.” Mildred fiddled with the telephone. “You don’t expect me to call
Captain Beatty, do you?”
“You must! ”
“I wasn’t shouting.” He was up in bed, suddenly, enraged and flushed, shaking. The
parlour roared in the hot air. “I can’t call him. I can’t tell him I’m sick.”
Because you’re afraid, he thought. A child feigning illness, afraid to call because after
a moment’s discussion, the conversation would run so: “Yes, Captain, I feel better
already. I’ll be in at ten o’clock tonight.”
“You’re not sick,” said Mildred.
Montag fell back in bed. He reached under his pillow. The hidden book was still
“Mildred, how would it be if, well, maybe, I quit my job awhile?”
“You want to give up everything? After all these years of working, because, one
night, some woman and her books–”
“You should have seen her, Millie! ”
“She’s nothing to me; she shouldn’t have had books. It was her responsibility, she
should have thought of that. I hate her. She’s got you going and next thing you know
we’ll be out, no house, no job, nothing.”
“You weren’t there, you didn’t see,” he said. “There must be something in books,
things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be
something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”
“She was simple-minded.”
“She was as rational as you and I, more so perhaps, and we burned her.”
“That’s water under the bridge.”
“No, not water; fire. You ever seen a burned house? It smoulders for days. Well, this
fire’ll last me the rest of my life. God! I’ve been trying to put it out, in my mind, all
night. I’m crazy with trying.”
“You should have thought of that before becoming a fireman.”
“Thought! ” he said. “Was I given a choice? My grandfather and father were firemen.
In my sleep, I ran after them.”
The parlour was playing a dance tune.
“This is the day you go on the early shift,” said Mildred. “You should have gone two
hours ago. I just noticed.”
“It’s not just the woman that died,” said Montag. “Last night I thought about all the
kerosene I’ve used in the past ten years. And I thought about books. And for the first
time I realized that a man was behind each one of the books. A man had to think
them up. A man had to take a long time to put them down on paper. And I’d never
even thought that thought before.” He got out of bed.
“It took some man a lifetime maybe to put some of his thoughts down, looking around
at the world and life, and then I came along in two minutes and boom! it’s all over.”
“Let me alone,” said Mildred. “I didn’t do anything.”
“Let you alone! That’s all very well, but how can I leave myself alone? We need not to
be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you
were really bothered? About something important, about something real?” And then he shut up, for he remembered last week and the two white sttones staring
up at the ceiling and the pump-snake with the probing eye and the two soap-faced
men with the cigarettes moving in their mouths when they talked. But that was
another Mildred, that was a Mildred so deep inside this one, and so bothered, really
bothered, that the two women had never met. He turned away.
Mildred said, “Well, now you’ve done it. Out front of the house. Look who’s here.”.
“I don’t care.”
“There’s a Phoenix car just driven up and a man in a black shirt with an orange snake
stitched on his arm coming up the front walk.”
“Captain Beauty?” he said,
Montag did not move, but stood looking into the cold whiteness of the wall
immediately before him.
“Go let him in, will you? Tell him I’m sick.”
“Tell him yourself!” She ran a few steps this way, a few steps that, and stopped, eyes
wide, when the front door speaker called her name, softly, softly, Mrs. Montag, Mrs.
Montag, someone here, someone here, Mrs. Montag, Mrs. Montag, someone’s here.
Montag made sure the book was well hidden behind the pillow, climbed slowly back
into bed, arranged the covers over his knees and across his chest, half-sitting, and
after a while Mildred moved and went out of the room and Captain Beatty strolled in,
his hands in his pockets.
“Shut the ‘relatives’ up,” said Beatty, looking around at everything except Montag and
This time, Mildred ran. The yammering voices stopped yelling in the parlour.
Captain Beatty sat down in the most comfortable chair with a peaceful look on his
ruddy face. He took time to prepare and light his brass pipe and puff out a great
smoke cloud. “Just thought I’d come by and see how the sick man is.”
“How’d you guess?”
Beatty smiled his smile which showed the candy pinkness of his gums and the tiny
candy whiteness of his teeth. “I’ve seen it all. You were going to call for a night off.”
Montag sat in bed.
“Well,” said Beatty, “take the night off!” He examined his eternal matchbox, the lid of
which said GUARANTEED: ONE MILLION LIGHTS IN THIS IGNITER, and began to
strike the chemical match abstractedly, blow out, strike, blow out, strike, speak a few
words, blow out. He looked at the flame. He blew, he looked at the smoke. “When
will you be well?”
“Tomorrow. The next day maybe. First of the week.”
Beatty puffed his pipe. “Every fireman, sooner or later, hits this. They only need
understanding, to know how the wheels run. Need to know the history of our
profession. They don’t feed it to rookies like they used to. Damn shame.” Puff. “Only
fire chiefs remember it now.” Puff. “I’ll let you in on it.”
Beatty took a full minute to settle himself in and think back for what he wanted to say.
“When did it all start, you ask, this job of ours, how did it come about, where, when?
Well, I’d say it really got started around about a thing called the Civil War. Even
though our rule-book claims it was founded earlier. The fact is we didn’t get along
well until photography came into its own. Then–motion pictures in the early twentieth
century. Radio. Television. Things began to have mass.”
Montag sat in bed, not moving.
“And because they had mass, they became simpler,” said Beatty. “Once, books
appealed to a few people, here, there, everywhere. They could afford to be different.
The world was roomy. But then the world got full of eyes and elbows and mouths.
Double, triple, quadruple population. Films and radios, magazines, books levelled
down to a sort of paste pudding norm, do you follow me?”
“I think so.”
“Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book
column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-line dictionary resume. I exaggerate, of
course. The dictionaries were for reference. But many were those whose sole
knowledge of Hamlet (you know the title certainly, Montag; it is probably only a faint
rumour of a title to you, Mrs. Montag) whose sole knowledge, as I say, of Hamlet was
a one-page digest in a book that claimed: ‘now at least you can read all the classics;
keep up with your neighbours.’ Do you see? Out of the nursery into the college and
back to the nursery; there’s your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or
Mildred arose and began to move around the room, picking things up and putting
them down. Beatty ignored her and continued
“Speed up the film, Montag, quick. Click? Pic? Look, Eye, Now, Flick, Here, There,
Swift, Pace, Up, Down, In, Out, Why, How, Who, What, Where, Eh? Uh! Bang!
Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom! Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics?
One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in mid-air, all vanishes! 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!”
Mildred smoothed the bedclothes. Montag felt his heart jump and jump again as she
patted his pillow. Right now she was pulling at his shoulder to try to get him to move
so she could take the pillow out and fix it nicely and put it back. And perhaps cry out
and stare or simply reach down her hand and say, “What’s this?” and hold up the
hidden book with touching innocence.
“School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped,
English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is
immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything
save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?
“Let me fix your pillow,” said Mildred.
“No! ” whispered Montag,
“The zipper displaces the button and a man lacks just that much time to think while
dressing at. dawn, a philosophical hour, and thus a melancholy hour.”
Mildred said, “Here.”
“Get away,” said Montag.
“Life becomes one big pratfall, Montag; everything bang; boff, and wow!”
“Wow,” said Mildred, yanking at the pillow.
“For God’s sake, let me be!” cried Montag passionately.
Beatty opened his eyes wide.
Mildred’s hand had frozen behind the pillow. Her fingers were tracing the book’s
outline and as the shape became familiar her face looked surprised and then
stunned. Her mouth opened to ask a question . . .
“Empty the theatres save for clowns and furnish the rooms with glass walls and
pretty colours running up and down the walls like confetti or blood or sherry or
“Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery. There’s your intellectual pattern…” -Captain Beatty