In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, why did Clarisse ask Montag if he was happy?
Ray Bradbury's classic depiction of a futuristic dystopian society in which books are banned because of the information and ideas they contain, Fahrenheit 451, the character of Clarisse is something of an enigma. This 17-year-old free-spirited teenage girl is an aberration in Guy Montag's life. She is happy and inquisitive in a society in which both are regarded with suspicion. Bradbury's initial description of Clarisse includes this passage:
"Her head was half bent to watch her shoes stir the circling leaves. Her face was slender and milk-white, and in it was a kind of gentle hunger that touched over everything with tireless curiosity."
Most significantly, Clarisse does not regard this fireman near whose home she and her family have recently relocated with suspicion or fear. On the contrary, she makes a point of telling Montag, "You know, I'm not afraid of you at all." In short, she is carefree, and unburdened by the fears and paranoia that permeate totalitarian systems such as that depicted in Bradbury's novel. So, we know right away that Clarisse is young, happy and inquisitive. She has been silently observing Montag, the fireman, and has noticed his demeanor and has wondered about what kind of person he might be, leading to the following exchange:
"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."
"But what do you talk about?"
She laughed at this. "Good night!" She started up her walk. Then she seemed to remember something and came back to look at him with wonder and curiosity. "Are you happy?" she said.
"Am I what?" he cried. But she was gone-running in the moonlight. Her front door shut gently.
Clarisse serves a purpose for Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451: She is the catalyst for his transformation from unquestioning fealty to authority to increasingly cynical critic of the regime he had loyally served -- a cynicism that would expand exponentially with the self-immolation he would soon observe. When Clarisse asks Montage if he is happy, it forces him to ask himself that very question, and the answer he begins to contemplate leads to his ultimate act of rebellion. Montag is not happy. His marriage is empty, devoid of love or passion, and the courage and commitment he sees in the people he is sworn to destroy causes him to reevaluate the course his life has taken.