Monday, December 5, 2011

Fahrenheit 451: Clarisse - One of Those People

 One of the major shortcomings of many dystopian novels is that the hero is seldom given a good reason to be as strange and insightful and revolutionary as they are. Why, in a society of conformists, would this person decide to stand out? And why do they often do so when they're middle-aged, while there are no reports of them having challenged the system during their crucial teenage years? I've read excellent dystopian novels that have left me with a hollow sense of dissatisfaction, and the unanswered question of Why?

Fahrenheit 451 is different. Fahrenheit 451 has Clarisse McClellan.

I was surprised by how little 'stage time' Clarisse was given in the novel. She pops in, has her say, and then leaves forever. Her only purpose in the story was to wake Guy Montag up and say, "Hey! You're wrong! Look at my shocking ideals!" And it worked. It worked wonderfully. She was so poignantly eccentric, so endearingly odd. Even for me, in my non-dystopian society, she was refreshing. I understand why her words resonated with Montag.

There are certain people in this world - this world, not just Bradbury's - that touch us. We meet them briefly, know them barely, and yet their words or quirks or smiles stay with us forever. Sometimes they present an idea to us that is so foreign, so different from anything we've ever considered, that the mere shock value of their thoughts is enough to make the memory of them stick.

In real life, of course, these wonderful people have families and friends and occupations and lives of their own, that are just as complex and important as yours, and their sole purpose is not to change you in some essential way. And yet that's the role they fill, for you, and for you that's more than enough. So cheers to Clarisse, and every person like Clarisse.

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