How does Beatty know who has books and who does not in Fahrenheit 451? I presume word of mouth, but who would openly admit to criminal activity? This scene also seems a bit fishy when out of the blue:

One last thing," said Beatty. "At least once in his career, every fireman gets an itch. What do the books say, he wonders. Oh, to scratch that itch, eh? Well, Montag, take my word for it, I've had to read a few in my time, to know what I was about, and the books say nothing! Nothing you can teach or believe. They're about non?existent people, figments of imagination, if they're fiction. And if they're non?fiction, it's worse, one professor calling another an idiot, one philosopher screaming down another's gullet. All of them running about, putting out the stars and extinguishing the sun. You come away lost."

Beatty seems to know Montag has some books. How exactly is this so if Montag has not told anyone about it?

1 Answer 1


I wondered about this, but I don't think Beatty has to know. Remember, people can be punished just for seeming different, or being the sort of person who evoke suspicion, in Bradbury's future.

On rereading I figured either Beatty was bluffing (sort of like hazing a new fraternity recruit, or just showing his power over Montag,) or it might be a test.

Beatty has likely had training in knowing who is likely to have read books, and he picks on those people. For instance, Montag hanging out with Clarice McClellan is a strong indication Montag is at risk of being a reader. Whether Clarice has exposed Montag to books, or books made Montag open to Clarice, is irrelevant.

In this case, it might be like parents seeing a kid hang out with other kids who smoke marijuana, then saying "Oh, I bet you teens all have tried marijuana, etc.," trying to force a confession.

I'd think also that Beatty has read books himself. They are probably just books about how to be controlling, and just enough to keep his place in the power structure. Nothing imaginative.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.