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What is the significance of Montag seeing his reflection in Clarisse's eyes in...

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mfa123 | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 14, 2013 at 8:20 PM via web

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What is the significance of Montag seeing his reflection in Clarisse's eyes in Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted August 1, 2013 at 11:50 PM (Answer #1)

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When Montag sees his own reflection in Clarisse's eyes, I think he is seeing himself through a different lens, or way of seeing things. Everything Montag perceives in his life in Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is based upon the propaganda he has been fed all his life, which he believes without question. With Clarisse's infuence, we see...

...the transformation of Montag from an obedient servant of the state to a questioning human being.

Clarisse provides a new point of reference so that Montag starts to question what he believes of the world, of himself, and of his place in the world—burning books, houses, and eventually, watching a woman die rather than give up her books.

When Montag meets Clarisse, they begin to discuss her ideas, which are extremely foreign to Montag. She asks questions that are often difficult or impossible for him to conceive, let along answer.

"Are you happy?" she said.

"Am I what?" he cried.

Happiness is a concept that Montag does not think about. He thinks about his job. He likes to watch things burn. He essentially remains passive, avoiding any behavior that might draw attention to him. (This is especially important later when we learn that Montag's theft of a book from the fire at 105 Elm is not his first.) At first he insists in a conversation in his brain that he is happy, but quickly realizes that he is lying to himself. Had Clarisse not asked the question, he would never have asked himself.

In their discussions, Montag notes:

How like a mirror, too, her face. Impossible; for how many people did you know that refracted your own light to you?

Clarisse is honest with Montag. This act opens his eyes.

Early on, Clarisse notices things about him when they speak of his profession. He tells her that he can never quite get rid of the smell of the kerosene they use to burn the books. Her questions get Montag to thinking:

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.

And in looking at the reflection of himself in Clarisse's eyes, he realizes that he doesn't see the cows in the fields or colors of the flowers as his car speeds along its way. He does not have fun: putting a yellow flower beneath his chin or catching rain on his tongue. In Clarisse, the child is still alive, full of questions—simple questions that have anything but simple answers.

As he perceives himself through Clarisse's eyes, he begins to question everything in his world. And though Clarisse is later killed in a car accident, her way of looking at the world has changed Montag. In studying himself through Clarisse's worldview, his perceptions change, and ultimately, so does his destiny. In the challenges Clarisse put to Montag, she not only allows him to start thinking for himself, but eventually the enlightenment he experiences saves his life.

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