What is the difference between Mildred and Clarisse? Explain with references.  

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mildred is Montag's wife and Clarisse is their teenage neighbor. When Montag meets Clarisse for the first time he says the following:

"He saw himself in her eyes, suspended in two shining drops of bright water. . . as if her eyes were two miraculous bits of violet amber that might capture and hold him intact. Her face, turned to him now, was fragile milk crystal with a soft and constant light in it. . ." (7).

Notice how he describes the girl with images of life-giving water, colors and light. These visuals help the reader identify Clarisse with life and light, which is in complete contrast to how Montag feels when he goes home and thinks of his life there with Mildred.

"It was like coming into a cold marbled room of a mausoleum after the moon has set. Complete darkness, not a hint of the silver world outside, the windows tightly shut, the chamber a tomb world where no sound from the great city could penetrate" (11).

With Mildred and his home, Montag uses words like "cold," "darkness," and "tomb," which do not suggest life, but death. It's as if he and Mildred lead lives of death--or at least lives without purpose.

The way each woman looks on life is different, too. Clarisse notices the natural life around her. She goes on walks, analyzes what she sees, and soaks up life. Mildred, on the other hand, sucks the life out of herself through sleeping pills, distractions and wasting time. One distraction Mildred likes that Clarisse doesn't understand is driving cars. Clarisse says the following:

"I sometimes think drivers don't know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see them slowly. . . My uncle drove slowly on a highway once. He drove forty miles an hour and they jailed him for two days. Isn't that funny, and sad, too?" (9).

On the other hand, Mildred not only supports driving like a maniac, she prescribes it as a way to deal with stress. When Montag is worrying about his job, she tells him to do the following:

"I always like to drive fast when I feel that way. You get it up around ninety-five and you feel wonderful. Sometimes I drive all night and come back and you don't know it. It's fun out in the country. You hit rabbits, sometimes you hit dogs. Go take the beetle" (64).

Clarisse worries that people miss out on the world around them when they drive fast; however, Mildred says that killing rabbits and dogs with cars is fun and makes her feel better. When discussing what is important, and what the purpose of life is, Montag makes an observation to Mildred:

"But Clarisse's favorite subject wasn't herself. It was everyone else, and me. She was the first person in a good many years I've really liked. She was the first person I can remember who looked straight at me as if I counted" (72).

This doesn't faze his wife. Mildred doesn't care about anything but her TV parlor, music and fast cars. She isn't interested in what her husband is going through. In fact, she tells him the following:

"Now. . . My 'family' is people. They tell me things: I laugh, they laugh! . . . And besides, if Captain Beatty knew about those books. . . He might come and burn the house and the 'family.' That's awful! Think of our investment" (73).

By "investment" Mildred means her three television walls and her emotional attachment to her programs. She isn't afraid that Montag would be arrested or killed; she's afraid to lose her television shows! The clear difference between Clarisse and Mildred is that the teenager knows more about life than the older wife. Clarisse is the one who asks Montag if he is happy--not Mildred. These two women are complete opposites.

Read the study guide:
Fahrenheit 451

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