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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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