Describe the character Clarisse McClellan in Fahrenheit 451.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Clarisse, who is of high school age, is described as having a slender, milky-white face with dark eyes that observe everything with a kind of hunger for knowledge. When Montag first meets her, she is wearing a white dress and appears very innocent. Unlike most people in her society, she likes to walk and watch the world around her. Sometimes, she walks all night and observes the way things smell and look. She shows a kind of curiosity that her society has almost killed. For example, she asks Montag if he ever reads the books he burns. She likes to go slowly and be observant in a world that values speed and metaphorical blindness. She enjoys old-fashioned activities, such as shaking a walnut tree, knitting a sweater, or collecting chestnuts and flowers. She also enjoys laughing and having conversations—activities that are rare in her world.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Clarisse McClellan lives next door to Montag. Clarisse is innocent, curious, and full of life. She doesn't conform to the roles and regulations of the oppressive society that she and Montag live in. When she asks Montag if firemen used to put out fires rather than start them, Montag laughs. This is one of the first moments when Clarisse challenges Montag, challenges the way he thinks: 

You laugh when I haven't been funny and you answer right off. You never stop to think what I've asked you. 

Here, Clarisse quite literally tells Montag he doesn't think too deeply about things. Clarisse mentions that she doesn't watch the parlour walls and her family sits around and talks. This is strange to Montag whose wife is addicted to the parlour shows and has little to no experience of a family life full of conversation. 

At the end of their first meeting, Clarisse asks Montag if he is happy. Again, Clarisse's curiosity causes Montag to think, even to evaluate his own life. Montag remarks that Clarisse's face was like a mirror: 

How like a mirror, too, her face. Impossible; for how many people did you know that refracted your own light to you? 

This image "reflects" the dynamic that Montag experienced with Clarisse. He has no meaningful conversation with anyone, let alone his wife. When he talks to Clarisse, she opens his mind and makes him think about things he's never considered and she makes him think about himself. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Who is Clarisse McClellan in Fahrenheit 451? What is her importance?

Clarisse McClellan is Montag's seventeen-year-old neighbor, who befriends him towards the beginning of the novel and is the catalyst for his dramatic transformation. Clarisse McClellan is depicted as an intuitive, charismatic teenager who has an affinity for nature and engaging in meaningful conversations. Her outgoing and insightful personality is unique in Bradbury's dystopian society, where the majority of citizens are superficial, callous, and ignorant. Montag is attracted and intrigued by Clarisse McClellan's personality, and her presence is a breath of fresh air to him. After Clarisse shares her unique perspective of the world with Montag, she asks him if he is happy. Clarisse's question is a wake-up call to Montag, who begins to analyze and examine his life. After Clarisse tells him that he is not in love, Montag comes to terms with the fact that he has a shallow relationship with Mildred and begins to analyze his marriage. Overall, Clarisse McClellan plays a significant role in the novel and influences Montag to dramatically change the trajectory of his life.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Who is Clarisse McClellan in Fahrenheit 451? What is her importance?

Clarisse McClellan is a young girl of 16 years of age that appears early in the book. She represents a conflict for the main character, Guy Montag. She represents individuality, free-thinking, and artistry. When we meet her, she pays no mind to the social constructs and rules of society. In her conversations with Guy, she challenges him to look at the world differently. It is her ideas and behavior that cause Guy to start to reexamine his life and eventually turn his back on the society and ideas around him. The character disappears early on in the book and it is implied that she was murdered by the government for being a free thinker. The audience is left to make their own determinations as to her fate.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Who is Clarisse McClellan in Fahrenheit 451? What is her importance?

Clarisse McClellan is an anachronism in the society of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 who disturbs the complacency of Guy Montag, causing him to question certain aspects of his life.

Prior to his encounter with Clarisse, Montag considers burning "a pleasure." But, one night as he turns the corner, Montag spots a girl who moves her head in such a way as to express

...a kind of gentle hunger that touched over everything with tireless curiosity.

With her eyes "fixed to the world," Clarisse nearly collides with Montag. She introduces herself as a new neighbor, and she asks if Montag will accompany her home. As they walk along, Clarisse informs Montag that she enjoys smelling things and examining them; in fact, she tells him that she sometimes stays up all night, walking, and finally, watching the sun rise. 
With candor, Clarisse asks Montag if he ever reads any of the books that he burns. But, Montag laughs, replying, "That's against the law!" Clarisse merely returns, "Oh. Of course." When Montag chuckles, she quickly inquires, "Why are you laughing?" and Montag tells her that he does not know, adding "You are an odd one.....Haven't you any respect?" Clarisse counters with the observation that Montag does not stop to think about what she has asked, while she, on the other hand, ponders many things. As she runs off, Clarisse asks Montag if he is happy.

Shaken by this encounter, Montag sees the face of Clarisse upon his wall as he enters his house: "How like a mirror, too, her face." But, when he goes into the bedroom, Montag discovers his wife, who is unconscious with only the sounds of the singing in the "thimble -wasps in her "tamped-shut" ears. He quickly calls for help, but none comes. Finally, he get an emergency  squad to ave Mildred. This encounter with death and his previous meeting of Clarisse, affect Montag deeply. Unfortunately, not long after this meeting, Clarisse has disappeared.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the significance of including Clarisse McClellan in Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury?

In Ray Bradbury's novel, Fahrenheit 451, Clarisse McClellan is especially significant for several reasons.

First, Clarisse makes us look more closely at Guy in that she is very different. Montag is a man that does what is expected of him. He rarely asks questions or looks beneath the surface of life. He burns down houses with books inside and, at the beginning, does not see this as a bad thing.

Clarisse changes Montag, but not intentionally. One source describes her as "innocent." Her take on life is extraordinary as Montag sees it, and slowly her attitudes take root in Montag's heart and soul. Bradbury describes Clarisse:

Her face was slender and milk-white, and in it was a kind of gentle hunger that touched over everything with tireless curiosity. Her dress was white...

The repeated references to "white" (symbolic of purity) support the presence of innocence in Clarisse. She is learning about the world herself, as Montag eventually will also do; this is evident in her ardent curiosity.

Clarrise is not at all worried about doing what society and/or the government expects. She is a free-thinker who sees the world in terms of possibilities and simple pleasures in life that most people have forgotten, like "dew on the grass in the morning" and "a man in the moon." She tastes the rain and places a dandelion under her chin, and they his, to see if each is "in love." What really makes Montag start to think is Clarisse's odd question—to Montag's way of thinking—when she asks:

Are you happy?

In comparing Clarisse and Montag, we see two extremes of those who live in this society. We also learn that Clarisse represents a minorty—of the curious, the question-askers. Montag represents all that is wrong with society in this futuristic environment, questioning first.

Clarisse is the one that simplifies life for Montag: she notices the passing landscape. She and her family members visit and talk, and do not feel controlled or compelled to conform. It is only after meeting Clarisse and speaking with her several times that Montag begins to more openly wonder about things, and to question society-driven norms.

Clarisse is symbolic of "dangerous" behavior. She is symbolic, too, of change: for within her character, Montag starts also to question, look beneath the surface and see things as they are rather than as he has been instructed to see them. Clarisse is the impetuous that allows Montag to ultimately break free of society's dictates—even to kill Beatty—and join others who wish to preserve the knowledge kept in books...even while society destroys itself.

Clarisse is also a foil to Mildred—Montag's wife. A foil is a...

...character who sets off another character by contrast.

Mildred is at the center of Montag's life. She does what society tells her to—without question—even if it is not good for her. Through Mildred we see Montag drifting away from what the world expects: he cannot rationalize Mildred's zombie-like behavior and her desire to separate herself from the real world.

Clarisse, on the other hand, does all she can to grab life with both hands.

Eventually, Clarisse's family disappears and she is said to have been killed in a car accident. I have wondered if this is true or if society simply "removed" Clarisse and her family because they would not conform. However, by the time this happens, Montag has been changed forever by Clarisse.

Additional Source:

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on