Clarisse McClellan is a free-spirited young woman whom Montag encounters in the neighborhood on his way home from work. Clarisse describes herself as “seventeen and crazy,” and she talks in a series of rapid-fire questions and declarations that demonstrate an open and curious mind about the world around her. Although Montag retorts that she “think[s] too many things,” Clarisse’s curious mind clearly intrigues him, especially when he compares her to his own numb, unquestioning wife. Clarisse’s family intrigues Montag as well. Instead of spending all their time glued to wall-sized television screens, Clarisse’s family sits around with the lights on, talking late into the night. These unorthodox behaviors set the McClellans apart from the rest of society.
Clarisse disappears from the novel fairly early, after she is killed by a speeding car. Despite her brief appearance in the book, Clarisse plays an important role in Montag’s development. The questions she asks make Montag question everything, and they eventually awaken him from his spiritual and intellectual slumber. For instance, when they part ways for the first time, Clarisse asks Montag if he’s happy. Montag has always assumed that he is happy, but her question helps him realize that he’s actually quite miserable. Just as Clarisse’s questions lead Montag to self-realization, her death spurs Montag into action and contributes to his belief that books might unlock secrets that could save society from its imminent self-destruction. In the end, Clarisse’s free-spirited nature functions to spark Montag’s awakening.