Celsius 233: Clarisse the Catalyst
“We are like chameleons; we take our hue and the color of our moral character, from those who are around us” (John Locke, English philosopher and physician). Everyone in the world influences others in many various manners. The influence can be diminutive or extremely significant but they always have an impact. In the novel, Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury introduces a string of influential figures that drive the protagonist, Guy Montag, through a complete metamorphosis. This dystopian novel, set in a futuristic society, focuses on the life of Guy Montag, a fireman whose job it is to start fires. At first, Montag takes great pleasure in his profession of burning illegally owned books and the homes of their owners. However, after meeting Clarisse McClellan, an inquisitive young lady, he begins to question the value of his profession and, in turn, his life. Clarisse embodied a serene innocence amidst the bitter reality of a corrupt world. She was the first to influence Montag towards the path of self-awareness. I will explore Clarisse’s role in the futuristic society, how and why her words changed Montag and the symbolic purpose of her “death”.
Clarisse McClellan’s main function in Fahrenheit 451 is to play the role of innocence, both in mind and in action. She serves as a catalyst that forces Montag to go through a painful but necessary self-examination.“‘That’s why I think it’s so strange you’re a fireman. It just doesn’t seem right for you, somehow.’ He felt his body divide itself into a hotness and a coldness, a softness and a hardness, a trembling and a not trembling, the two halves grinding one upon the other” (p. 24). Clarisse finds interest in parts of the world Montag doesn’t understand, such as, “watching people, tasting the rain and smelling autumn leaves”. Her carefree, yet observant, personality appealed to Montag. “She didn’t want to know how a thing was done, but why” (p.60). Clarisse didn’t care about how; so much as she wanted to know why the thing was done in the first place. To her, the reason why something happened or was done was far more important than how. Her role in the novel is only the forerunner of Montag’s spiritual renaissance which is completed by Faber and Granger. In many ways, Clarisse is a foil for Mildred. Guy Montag’s wife is an inattentive and mindless “zombie” that strictly abides by the laws of their futuristic society. On the other hand Clarisse seems to be such a simple character, taking walks and asking questions. But in the end, it’s her simplicity and expression of individual thought that ultimately leads Montag to question the purpose of his profession and, in turn, his life. Clarisse plays her role as the guide perfectly. Her constant questioning pokes and prods Montag onto the correct path that decides the fate of their society. If Clarisse McClellan had survived through the duration of the entire novel, she could’ve emerged as the leader for their new society built on knowledge. “But Clarisse’s favourite subject wasn’t herself. It was everyone else, and me” (p.72). Clarisse’s altruistic thinking is a quality that even many of our current political leaders lack. Clarisse’s motivation and leadership reflects on many influential leaders that have left their mark on the Earth. But the one she can be most correlated with is Mahatma Gandhi. Born in Porbandar, India, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi became one of the most respected and influential spiritual leaders of the twentieth century. He helped free the Indian people from British rule through non-violent resistance and is honoured by his people as the father of India. The Indian people call Gandhi, Mahatma, which means Great Soul. Similar to Gandhi, Clarisse freed Guy Montag from the firm grasp of the firemen foundation. Her “lessons”, on expressing individual thought, were far from violent. But it’s not solely their actions that depict similatities between these two figures; it’s...
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