What final question does Clarisse ask Montag in Fahrenheit 451, and why is it important to the plot?
Clarisse asks Montag, "Are you happy?" It becomes especially important in the context of his life. Witnessing an old lady choose to burn with her books and finding his wife's body after she has attempted suicide both leave him shaken. Clarisse's question spurs him to begin to think for himself and to examine the life he is living and the society in which he is living it. He has been so numbed by the old woman's death that he cannot report for work the next day. Watching the technicians revive his wife makes him aware of their automatic, well practiced procedures, ones they have perfected in bring back others who no longer wanted to live in Montag's society. Montag reaches the conclusion that he, as well as those around him, are not happy, but live instead in a kind of spiritual misery that is glossed over by the superficial pleasures offered them by the state. Montag has begun to think for himself which places him in direct and dire conflict with his repressive, authoritarian government. The path and the results of his rebellion comprise the remainder of the novel.