Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian fiction by Ray Bradbury, discovering a dull society focused on consumption and uniformity. The book presents a number of ideas and topics, the most notable of which involve the contradiction between the accepted social norms in real life and the fictional world. The protagonist Guy Montag is forced to reevaluate his life after meeting the girl Clarisse McClellan. It is important to observe how ideas of singularity and nostalgia are transmitted through Clarisse’s character and what impact they have on the protagonist’s change to understand his motives.
Clarisse’s Role in the Story
First of all, Clarisse McClellan is a seventeen-year-old girl who lives in the neighborhood and happens to meet Montag on his way home from work. Their first meeting sets in motion the whole story and serves as a catalyst for the subsequent events. This character, labeled the “time bomb” by the chief of firemen, incorporates the ideals valued in the reader’s reality while defying the social norms of the fictional world (Bradbury 34). Defined by her kindness, curiosity, sensitivity, and the power of observation, Clarisse forms a deep feeling of nostalgia for these lost feelings in the protagonist. In their conversations, the girl asks a series of questions, forcing Montag to reevaluate the world he lives in and his status quo. They form an emotional attachment that is abnormal in its sincerity to the hostile environment.
Clarisse’s existence is formed around the concepts of nostalgia and singularity, with her difference rooted in the family. They chat and listen to each other, and share joy and worries together, an unusual sight in this world: “their laughter was relaxed and hearty and not forced in any way” (Bradbury 10). Her uncle helps her learn about the time before this dystopian world was created, which allows her to escape the conventional truth spread in school. The contradiction of society may be seen through the comparison of two families. While Clarisse spends her time having meaningful conversations with relatives, examining the surroundings, and studying people, Montag’s wife watches television shows all day long and barely recognizes their relationship.
Furthermore, Clarisse’s family consists of dissidents, people who do not follow common rules. For example, her uncle was arrested for driving too slow only because he wanted to enjoy the scenery, an unnecessary pleasure for the dystopian society. Hence, the girl is acutely aware of the world’s unfairness and harshness. Her primary function is to stir the stagnating consciousness of the protagonist with her positive behavior. The concept of singularity is preserved in the authorities’ attention toward the girl and her family. Despite that they are deemed anti-social, the family is left in relative peace. There are no attempts to “rescue” them from the government or to include them in the standard system. They are just observed and punished in cases of breaking the law. It means that the system only supports the exclusionist attitude toward Clarisse as long as she does not spread the ideas.
The Concept of Singularity
Besides, Clarisse is the embodiment of otherness in the system. She is a conductor who connects the past with the present. By conveying her thoughts or uncle’s stories, the girl teaches the protagonist the values of the past: “they believed in responsibility” (Bradbury 17). Despite her peers, she does not visit races or Fun Parks. And she is also afraid of children as they hurt each other. It can be seen here how fragile but moralistic norms of the past are crushed by the harsh reality of the present. Clarisse’s desire to be secluded, to avoid her peers, is based on the difference in their perspectives. She is regarded as an anti-social person despite all her traits being considered social in the reader’s reality.
Consequently, curiosity is discouraged in the fictional world because it leads to unnecessary questions. The girl’s difference may be seen even in her rhetoric as she “didn’t want to know how a thing was done, but why” (Bradbury 34). It is not surprising that she meets her end relatively early in the story because, being nurtured with the uncle’s stories, she is not adapted to the cruel society. The dystopian world does not welcome these people, and that is why she is forced to visit a psychiatrist being “anti-social” and “abnormal” (Bradbury 17). Chief Beatty, a true representative of the new world, stresses that this type of person makes others feel guilty, and that is why she is better off dead. However, the girl plays the role of martyr, passing a flame of curiosity and knowledge to the protagonist. And her death becomes a turning point in Montag’s life as it accelerates his awareness of his surroundings.
Clarisse may have been intended to become some sort of social misfit where her individuality is set against the similarity of the masses and their collective behavior. She bears human traits which are reinforced in dehumanizing society, and this perspective ignites the protagonist’s life change. The protagonist may see Clarisse as a mirror. By comparing himself to her, Montag finds more and more flaws and insecurities as he “wore his happiness like a mask,” which the girl took from him (Bradbury 7). Clarisse’s words disclose the idea of conformism which is prevalent in this totalitarian world. The people lack any critical thought, and any objects or notions are reduced to their physical or recurrent characteristics without distinct differences. These totalitarian politics aims to make all people think alike, taking away their individuality and uniqueness. Everything in that world, including houses, is depersonalized, and all differences are blurred. People discuss cars, clothes, and swimming pools, but Clarisse observes that it reminds her of a designed dialogue.
The Concept of Nostalgia
Moreover, the feeling of nostalgia is only enhanced in the story as Clarisse represents the withered world of sensual joy in comparison to Montag, who stands as a robotic man not used to enjoying mundane things. Meanwhile, the girl enjoys knitting, picking flowers, embracing the rain, or shaking the walnut tree because it brings her a sense of pleasure. It is important to note that her actions may impose the feeling of nostalgia not only on Montag but also on readers, reminding them of their childhood. Clarisse helps Montag to embrace the forgotten but simple pleasures like the smell of flowers or the feeling of rain. It leads him to an important question which he poses to his wife: “How long is it since you were bothered about something important, about something real” (Bradbury 29). Such a change in attitude helps to see the transformation of Montag from a conformist to a rebel attitude.
Additionally, these concepts are supported through different means. For example, Clarisse’s name may be a metaphor as it may be translated as “bright,” or “shining.” She guides the protagonist like a ray of light, showing him the deficiency of the outside world. The girl concludes that “people don’t talk about anything” (Bradbury 17). They say the same lines and discuss the same topics without any new thoughts. The very concept of life became abstract as the experiences began to dull, and people stopped thinking. As the protagonist says, “her favorite subject wasn’t herself, it was everyone else, and me” (Bradbury 38). It helps to see that Montag is full of guilt and doubt. These feelings are the consequence of his personal insecurities and unawareness of the current state of affairs. Their relationship helps Montag understand the idea of friendship “in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over” (Bradbury 38). It allows Clarisse to serve as a catalyst for the protagonist’s changes.
Even after her death, Clarisse lives on as an idea or concept. Montag often experiences an identity split, thinking about what Clarisse would have said in his place. According to Pendry, “Clarisse prompts Montag’s cognitive and emotional crisis, causing him to question his most closely held values about life, motivation, and roles” (61). Their meeting turns the protagonist from a lonely and unhappy man into an intelligent individual who is not afraid to ask questions and shows independent thinking and courage in times of need.
In conclusion, it should be said that Clarisse plays a vital role in the whole story, and all the events would not be possible without this character. The girl is a mirror of the past, and her role is to convey the forgotten feelings and memories both to the protagonist and the reader. McClellan’s existence is opposed to the realities of the dystopian world. The author shows how free-spirit personalities may not be understood and excluded by society for their irregular ideas. So, Clarisse is present in the story to reflect on the ideas of nostalgia and singularity.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. Project Gutenberg, 1953. Project Gutenberg,
Pendery, David. “Transformational Quest in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.” International Journal of English Literature and Social Sciences, vol. 2, no.3, 2017, pp. 50-62