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How Does the Poem "Dover Beach" Relate to "Fahrenheit 451"?


The poem "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold, published in 1867, and the novel "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury, published in 1953, are interconnected. "Dover Beach" is mentioned by name and read aloud in "Fahrenheit 451." Themes in "Dover Beach" and "Fahrenheit 451" are similar, and each focuses on a main character who doesn't want to follow the norms in a dystopian society.

A Censored Poem

"Fahrenheit 451" is about the censorship of books. The government determines that many books have controversial messages that bring out the worst in humans. As a result, outlawed books must be collected and burned by firefighters. The main protagonist, a firefighter named Guy Montag, is commissioned to raid houses and destroy books in his community. Through conversations with open-minded teenager Clarisse, English professor Faber, and an elderly woman who chooses to burn her house down rather than give up her books, Montag decides to steal, hide and keep some of the confiscated books at his house. Montag keeps a book of poetry that includes "Dover Beach."

Genuine Expression

Montag's wife, Mildred, suffers from depression and tries to commit suicide with sleeping pills. She survives, but is apathetic toward censorship of the books and can't relate to Montag's desire to preserve and learn from the books he confiscates. Montag feels that censorship of the books takes away free will and creates a false sense of security and normalcy. One evening at their house, Mildred invites friends over to watch wall-size TV screens. The shows are dull and boring and don't inspire individual thought or critical thinking. Montag turns off the TVs and reads "Dover Beach" aloud to the women. One of the women cries and all the visitors leave, upset and burdened by the book and by Montag's defiance in keeping the outlawed book.

Common Themes

"Dover Beach" is about the beach in Dover, Kent, Britain, where the poet, Arnold, and his wife spent their honeymoon. Arnold contrasts the beauty of the moonlit ocean, the pebbly beach and the ebb and flow of the tide with his internal despair over the world's loss of faith. He thinks the beauty of the scenery is merely a fantasy or an illusion, and human existence is much more bleak. Arnold and Montag both see the darkness in society and long for freedom of expression, beauty, faith and happiness. However, they both feel alone and burdened by their passions.

Lost Humanity

"Dover Beach" and "Fahrenheit 451" both deal with the gradual demise of society and the loss of humanity. Arnold's poem reflects his frustration with modernization as Britain experiences rapid industrialization. He misses traditional values and doesn't think people appreciate the beauty in art and nature. Similarly, Montag questions the current state of his world, void of beauty, literature and free expression. Even though the two literary pieces were written nearly a century apart, both deal with the corruption of humanity as it pulls away from simple pleasures, such as nature, art, faith and literature, and pursues shallow ideals, such as materialism and conformity.

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About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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