Why Is Clarisse Considered Anti Social

In Fahrenheit 451, why is Clarisse McClellan considered "anti-social"?

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In Ray Bradbury’s science fiction classic about a futuristic dystopian society in which books are banned because of the knowledge they contain, the average citizen is suspicious and unfriendly around people they don’t know well.  In societies such as that depicted in Fahrenheit 451, nobody knows whom they can trust; anybody, a neighbor, a friend, a relative, can be an informer for the government.  Clarisse, however, is a unique individual, which causes Montag to initially feel uneasy with the 17-year-old’s questions.  She can only be considered “anti-social,” however, in the context of a society in which people do not easily converge and certainly don’t engage in potentially sensitive conversations about topics like the job of firemen and books. That’s why her and Montag’s initial encounter strikes the fireman as peculiar, as indicated by the following passage:

“He stopped walking, "You are an odd one," he said, looking at her. "Haven't you any respect?"

"I don't mean to be insulting. It's just, I love to watch people too much, I guess."

As the two strangers-turned-friends continue their conversation, it becomes apparent to Montag that is no ordinary teenager, and that her’s is no ordinary family.  The somber tone that dominates Bradbury’s society stands in stark contrast to the upbeat and joyful resonance Montag detects from Clarisse’s home, as demonstrated by the following:

“Laughter blew across the moon-coloured lawn from the house of Clarisse and her father and mother and the uncle who smiled so quietly and so earnestly. Above all, their laughter was relaxed and hearty and not forced in any way, coming from the house that was so brightly lit this late at night while all the other houses were kept to themselves in darkness.”

In one of the next encounters, the subject of Clarisse’s “unusual” personality becomes the topic of conversation.  Increasingly curious as to the background and nature of this teenage girl, Montag finally asks Clarisse why she isn’t at school like all the other children:

“He felt at ease and comfortable. "Why aren't you in school? I see you every day wandering around."

"Oh, they don't miss me," she said. ‘I'm anti-social, they say. I don't mix. It's so strange. I'm very social indeed. It all depends on what you mean by social, doesn't it? Social to me means talking about things like this.’ She rattled some chestnuts that had fallen off the tree in the front yard. ‘Or talking about how strange the world is. Being with people is nice. But I don't think it's social to get a bunch of people together and then not let them talk, do you?’”

Clarisse’s response to Montag’s question is entirely appropriate.  She is not “anti-social”; she is, in fact, the rare social individual in this repressive city.  She wants to socialize, to mix freely with other people and discuss important subjects.  In the totalitarian society depicted in Fahrenheit 451, that is a threat to social stability.  Free spirits and totalitarian systems do not mix well.

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In Part One, Montag asks his charismatic neighbor Clarisse McClellan why she isn't in school and she responds by saying,

"Oh, they don't miss me . . . I'm anti-social, they say. I don't mix. It's so strange" (Bradbury, 13).

Clarisse goes on to explain why she is labeled anti-social and the reader discovers that the definition of social in Bradbury's dystopian society has a completely opposite meaning. The majority of citizens in Bradbury's dystopian society consider having meaningful conversations, discussing the world, or talking about life to be examples of anti-social behavior. Clarisse is essentially labeled anti-social because she does not enjoy listening to a television teach lessons, playing violent sports with her classmates, or sitting in a classroom not talking about anything interesting. Ironically, Clarisse is a very social adolescent, who enjoys having meaningful conversations and discussing life with others. Overall, Clarisse McClellan is labeled anti-social because she does not participate in the meaningless, shallow activities that her other peers enjoy and would rather have enlightening conversations about life.

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Teen-aged Clarisse is considered anti-social, because, like the rest of her family, she enjoys being out in nature, talking walks, and having conversations rather than watching televised wall screens all the time. She is also a gentle, ethereal person, who dislikes the increasing violence and alienation of the teenagers of her generation. Ironically, these are all activities and qualities, especially talking to people and not behaving violently, which are considered healthy and social in our own society.

She awakens latent discontents in Montag when she actually talks to him and takes an interest in who he is and what he has to say. He begins to think about how he is living his life and whether he is satisfied with it. This kind of independent thinking is precisely what the government wants to discourage. It fears too much thought will lead to social instability, which is why people like Clarisse are considered anti-social nuisances by people like Beatty.

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Clarisse is considered anti-social because she refuses to participate in the activates that the government deems as acceptable activities for people in the society of “Fahrenheit 451”.  She enjoys doing thinks like wondering, thinking, looking around and taking time to smell the flowers and be aware of her surroundings; because of this, she is actually happy.  The other people of her society are brainwashed to enjoy watching television, looking at picture books instead of reading, and participating in team sports that frown upon individuality.  Because Clarisse enjoys the activities that she does, she remains happy until the day that she dies (or disappears) while the others lifeless people of her society drown themselves in happy pills and can not even think for themselves. 

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Her society considers being social fitting in; going to her classes and sitting there absorbing everything.  Being social means enjoying sitting there and not asking questions, then going to the parks to "bully people around, break windowpanes...wreck cars...race on the streets...shouting or dancing around like wild or beating up one another."  That is what socializing is to kids her age.  To her however, it is talking to people, being around them, getting to know them, and asking questions about the world to start good discussions.  So, because she doesn't behave the way that all of the other teenagers behave, she is considered anti-social.  If you think of anyone at your school who is a bit different, and who doesn't behave like most of the kids do, they tend to get labelled with such phrases as "anti-social", "freak," "weirdo," and other such negative terms.  Being anti-social to the majority just means that you aren't behaving like they are behaving.  And, Clarisse doesn't.  She actually enjoys thinking, and not going around smashing things up and never really talking to the people you are doing the smashing with.  So, that is why she is considered anti-social; she isn't social in the way that everyone else is.  I hope that helps!

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Clarisse was considered anti-social because her family believed in slowing down.

Clarisse is Montag’s neighbor. She is just a teenager, but she is also wise. Her family is very unique in Montag’s society. In a world where everyone drives fast and never stops to talk, Clarisse’s family sits around socializing. They think that people are more important than television.

"Oh, just my mother and father and uncle sitting around, talking. It's like being a pedestrian, only rarer. My uncle was arrested another time-did I tell you?-for being a pedestrian. Oh, we're most peculiar." (Part I)

Clarisse is seventeen, but doesn’t like kids her age because they like to drive too fast and do not care if they kill each other. She is the one killed when a “beetle” runs her over. Montag is saddened when he finds out, but no one else seems to care.

Beatty warns Montag that Clarisse’s family is bad news. He seems to think she is better off being dead.

Clarisse McClellan? We've a record on her family. We've watched them carefully. Heredity and environment are funny things. You can't rid yourselves of all the odd ducks in just a few years. The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school. (Part I)

According to Beatty, Clarisse really was “seventeen and crazy.” He thinks that her entire family is made up of bad seeds. They do not conform to the expectations of society. This is why Clarisse was so philosophical. Her family taught her to ask questions and think for herself.

Clarisse changed Montag’s entire worldview when she asked him if he was happy. He had already been having doubts about being a fireman, but Clarisse’s cheery attitude and philosophical conversation helped him see that he wanted more from his life than a distant wife and a career stamping out intellectualism.

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