In Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, how do the parlor women differ from the women Montag usually associates with?
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In Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Montag does not associate with too many women—mostly it is just Millie, his wife, and Clarisse McClellan, his young and unusual neighbor.
Millie and the parlor women are disciples of the "ignorance is bliss" segment of society—the segment that represents almost all of those people Montag has ever known. They are happy to sit and watch TVs in the parlor; they have no idea that they are being manipulated with the inhibition of free thought carried out by the government. Millie and the parlor women love to watch the programs that promote only government-approved thinking: the actor never offer up questions; the viewers never question anything they see. Even when Millie gets to participate in the show, she is given a script she must follow (and she is excited to do so), but she has no idea what the program is about—and that is the way the government wants it.
Clarisse McClellan, however, is a totally different kind of woman. Clarisse asks questions, something that Montag is unfamiliar with. She asks if he ever reads the books he burns. This is a rebellious notion, and like an obedient member of society, he unthinkingly responds that such a thing would be against the law.
Clarisse notices things about nature that Montag has forgotten or never knew: like the fact that there is dew on the grass in the morning, and that there is a man in the moon. As they approach her house the night they first meet, Montag is surprised to see so many lights burning there. Clarisse explains that her family members must be sitting around, talking. This is also something alien to Montag. For he and Millie never talk. (Later we discover that neither of them can remember how they even met.)
Clarisse asks Montag perhaps the most perplexing and the most important question of all: is he happy? Again, he unthinkingly responds that, yes, he certainly is. When they go their separate ways, however, he realizes that his is not at all happy.
He felt his smile slide away, melt, fold over and down on itself like a tallow skin, like the stuff of a fantastic candle burning too long and now collapsing and now blown out. Darkness. He was not happy. He was not happy. He said the words to himself. He recognized this as the true state of affairs.
Reflecting upon their discussion, Montag realizes that there is a connection between them: it is an unknown experience for him because it is one person actually seeing another person—people really seeing each other—and exchanging ideas and information. They are conversing based upon original thought—intellectual freedom—something Montag does not recognize because the government has convinced people not to pay attention. This is the beginning of Montag's transformation.
The rest of the women Montag knows, Millie and the parlor women, are like automatons. They believe what they are told, but don't think; their values are tied to what the government has taught them to believe. At one point in the story, Montag reads to them and nearly shatters them in every way as they listen to his reading with horror. They refuse to return to his house.
At one point, a speeding car kills Clarisse. However, she has opened Montag's eyes to the world. And at the end, as he escapes from a society being destroyed by bombs, he finds a railroad track in the woods. The connection he felt is there again: he is sure Clarisse also walked there once. She changed the course of his life—she saved his life.
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