The goal of being truly happy is one that most people strive to achieve on a daily basis and in their lives holistically. However, what happiness is in actuality is subjective, unique to each individual. It is impossible to make every person happy in every aspect of their lives. The government in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 takes a wrongful step towards equal happiness in banning all books because of the belief that any book can cause unhappiness in someone.
In Fahrenheit 451 Clarisse McClellan changes Montag from a fireman satisfied with his life in which burning things is his source of happiness to a passionate man malcontent with his society.
At the beginning of the novel, Montag is satisfied with his job, even pleased with what he is doing. Burning books gives him a sense of pleasure. He enjoys being surrounded by the flames, and his work makes him happy. Montag describes the smile that burning things puts on his face. One day, after successfully burning a collection of illegal books, the narrator says of Montag, “It never went away, that smile, it never went away, as long as he remembered” (2). In this part of the story, Montag has been a fireman for ten years and greatly enjoys the work. He believes that burning any possible source of unhappiness is his life’s purpose, never stopping to think that the source of one person’s discontent may be the source of another’s joy. Being raised in the society that he was, being a fireman is the pride of his life. It gives him such happiness that the narrator says Montag does not remember a time when his job had not put a smile on his face. When Montag first meets Clarisse, she asks about his job. He tells her, “It’s fine work. Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn ‘em to ashes, then burn the ashes” (6). Montag greatly enjoys his job, burning things whenever he can, burning books and then burning the ashes to get the sense of satisfaction that fire brings him and the rest of the firemen. He knows the major authors, and burning their books brings him pride as he demonstrates to Clarisse in this statement.
Clarisse was the key proponent in Montag’s shift in view, demonstrating to him things he had never noticed about his society and his own life. By showing him such things, she plants the ideas that will later become Montag’s driving purpose. Montag’s life has been fire-oriented for its majority, and he goes on burning things without thinking about any consequences of what he does because most in his society see only the benefits of burning books. However, Clarisse McClellan changes all of this in her short presence in this book. Beginning with their first meeting, she invokes a sense of curiosity in Montag, forcing him to truly think about his world. When they first meet, Clarisse tells Montag that in the morning the grass is dewy. The narrator explains Montag’s internal response, saying “He suddenly couldn’t remember if he had known this or not, and it made him quite irritable” (7). Montag is irritated that this girl he has just met has told him things he had never known, things he probably never would have known about without Clarisse telling him. Montag being irritated because of the fact that he never noticed the dew on the grass shows that he has been swept up in the fast-moving current of society, always going somewhere or doing something. He and his society have never stopped to notice things so small but so pleasant as the dew on the grass. They have never stopped to appreciate such things. When Montag continues to talk with Clarisse, the odd new girl on the street, she leads him to even more realizations. One day, she tells Montag that if you rub a dandelion under your chin and the yellow of the dandelion rubs off, you are in love. She does this to Montag, and none of the dandelion’s yellow appears on his chin. He tries his best to convince her otherwise, exclaiming that he is in love with his wife. After this exclamation, the narrator writes, “He tried to conjure up a face to fit the words, but there was no face” (20). In this moment Montag realizes that he is not in love with his wife. For him there is no face fitting for an emotion such as love because he has never truly felt such an emotion. In this passage, Clarisse, without even meaning to, leads Montag to the realization that in his life love simply does not exist. He realizes that an emotion he previously thought had been present all along indeed was not there at all.
At the end of the novel, Montag stands firmly against the government and the norms of his society, finding true happiness in appreciating the little things. “In the morning he would not have needed sleep for all the warm odors and sights of a complete country night would have rested and slept him while his eyes were wide and his mouth, when he thought to test it, was half a smile” (136). Once Montag realizes at the beginning of the novel that he should stop to appreciate the small pleasantries, he does so throughout his whole journey. Even when fleeing pursuit from the government, Montag finds happiness from small things like the smells and sights of the country and they keep him going. Not only is Montag more appreciative of things he has never noticed, he is also fiercely against the government, blinded by his passion for revealing to his society what they have become. When he meets the hobos and they tell him what they are doing, he tells them, “I think I was blind trying to go at things my way, planting books in firemen’s houses and sending in alarms” (145). Montag’s strong anger towards the government blinds him from logic, and he is willing to risk anything for the chance at making his society realize what the firemen are truly doing.
During Fahrenheit 451 Montag changes from a perfectly content fireman to a passionate and appreciative fugitive. His shift in beliefs and his change in worldview were largely facilitated by Clarisse, whose impact on Montag was far greater than her presence in Bradbury’s novel. Montag’s change makes him a man who understands how to achieve true happiness, whose joy is uncontrolled by the government, and who believes it should be this way for all other citizens in society.