Character Analysis of Captain Beatty
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 thoughtless stimulation in the culture of the novel, “”…a man lacks just that much time to think while dressing at dawn, a philosophical hour, and thus a melancholy hour” (56).
Beatty sees a philosophical hour as a melancholy one because it gives him opportunity to mourn his own lost intellectual freedom. The absence in Beatty’s mind of one key fact, elucidated to Montag by Professor Faber, could have accounted for the failure of his foray into literary intellectualism: “Books can be beaten down with reason” (84). Beatty could have become a powerful exponent of a book preservation force or a danger to the institution of book-burning; instead, frustrated and confused by internal conflict, he chose to become a fire captain and destroy the source of his mental discomfort.
As the ex-bibliophilic, well-read fire captain, he is one of many paradoxes in Fahrenheit. He is the antagonist of the novel, but also a representation of the novel’s antagonistic force: his personal arc of intellectual development followed by rejection of knowledge closely mimics (according to the histories told to Montag by Beatty and Faber) that of the country’s; the same powerful and oppressive censorship nationwide as Beatty holds within the microcosm of the fire station is consistent throughout the nation.
In fact the Captain, according to Professor Faber, “belongs to the group most dangerous to truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority” (108), a quite powerful force of rhetoric momentum that the Captain utilizes to his full advantage to keep control of his men’s loyalty and opinions. The captain of the fire station has a powerful tool at hand to maintain this control on a larger scale: the Mechanical Hound.
Beatty is a strong figure of oppression with the loyal and useful Hound at his side; he destroys knowledge and the power of thought, while the Hound instills fear in the population and removes any doubt in the public eye of the government’s power.
The fact that Beatty has power over the Hound as fire captain, combined with the Hound’s usefulness to the station, suggests that control over a people through fear is inevitable and necessary to effectively censor knowledge and extinguish the ember of independent thought.
Also, as a precursor to Beatty’s increasing suspicions of Montag (and as Montag’s mind becomes increasingly unsettled with its current state of affairs) the Mechanical Hound becomes more aggressive toward Montag, signifying a realization of Beatty’s suspicions and allowing him to subvert Montag’s security about his secrecy. Bradbury hints at Beatty’s clever deduction of Montag’s activities by sending the Hound (in a wonderfully subtle, sly move) to literally “sniff around” Montag’s house: “Under the door, a slow, probing sniff, an exhalation of electric steam. …] And the smell of blue electricity blowing under the locked door” (72). While the fear of the Hound does not abolish Montag’s resolve to read the books, it does weaken it and he hastens to finish his scholarly task because he is afraid he’ll be stopped. This is one of the few instances where Beatty does not attempt to sway Montag by outmaneuvering him in a debate but is still present for (in some form) and aware of an act that goes against both the law and the firemen’s code.
The final act of Montag’s that Beatty is explicitly aware of and violates both the law and the firemen’s code is his murder.
In a deed of fear, desperation, and (ironically) atonement, Montag burned him with his own flames; the force of destruction Beatty had released inside of each of his firemen eventually came back around and consumed him. Beatty wished for death; even when Montag had switched off the safety of his flamethrower and was clearly unstable, he continued to taunt him with a mixture of literary references and scorn, mocking Montag’s ignorance of the literature he has thrown his life away for: “‘Go ahead now, you second-hand litterateur, pull the trigger'” (119).
However, Beatty’s comments before his death, during ridicule of Montag when he is called on duty to his own house, reveal a great deal about both his true feelings about the state of modern civilization and the source of his hate of the written word. He displays a disdainful demeanor towards ordinary people when he says, “‘[f]or everyone nowadays knows, is absolutely certain, that nothing will ever happen to me.
Others die, I go on'” (115), suggesting that he is every bit the “fumbling snob” (119) that he accuses Montag of being.
It’s interesting that snobbery is the capital offense that Beatty charges Montag with, considering that Granger (the leader of a group whose goal it is to reinstitute reading into society) emphasized so strongly that “The most important single thing we had to pound into ourselves is that we were not important, we mustn’t be pedants; we were not to feel superior to anyone else in the world” (153). It seems that the majority of Beatty’s disdain for the literati stems from a dislike of their audacity and naivety: “Old Montag wanted to fly near the sun and now that he burnt his damn wings, he wonders why” (113).
Beatty’s attempt at scholarly literacy was the proverbial (definitely not literal in this context) “playing with fire”; he was burned, and when he sees others fall into what he believes is a trap he escaped from, he is filled with contempt towards them for not overcoming the same “handicap”. Captain Beatty is a rich, paradoxical, and complex warning figure in Ray Bradbury’s novel about censorship and tyranny of the mind.
He is a character in denial, spouting and touting beliefs foreign to his own deepest desires, a firm stickler for the rules because it allows him to mercilessly beat down his own nonconformist thoughts, which (if they or ones like them were to propagate among the people) endanger the “happiness”, tranquility, and docility of the population and sow dissent.
The security of the state’s contentment at the expense of the individual’s freedom of thought is the mission of Beatty, both personally and professionally, though he once was headed on the path of knowledge. Works Cited Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Del Rey Books, 1953.