Characterization Techniques – Examples from Fahrenheit 451

For all of you fellow writers out there: My literature guide had me write a paper on how Ray Bradbury uses several techniques to help bring his characters to life in his novel Fahrenheit 451. I found it so helpful to me and my writing that I wanted to share them with all of you as well.

Characterization Techniques from Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury, a master craftsman of words, wields his pen with artistry and precision to help establish the characters in his novel, Fahrenheit 451. Employing the use of several techniques of characterization, Bradbury allows us to not only learn about the direct qualities of his characters, but also to receive deeper insight as, when we carefully read his story, we are able to discover the subtle nuances and more indirect information about the characters. The words used to introduce me and to provide me with insight into the life and person of Clarisse McClellan impressed and captured me, and made her “come alive”.

By using direct information about Clarisse, Bradbury tells his readers little things about Clarisse through Montag’s thoughts and musings. We learn that she is thoughtful and careful in the words that she says – and doesn’t say.

He (Montag) felt she (Clarisse) was walking in a circle around him, turning him end for end, shaking him quietly, and emptying his pockets, without once moving herself.

…He knew she was working his questions around, seeking the best answers she could possibly give.

They walked the rest of the way in silence, hers thoughtful, his a kind of clenching and uncomfortable silence in which he shot her accusing glances.

The dialogue between Clarisse and Montag, the questions asked and the comments made – and how they were made, show us more about Clarisse than anything else. We learn that Clarisse is Montag’s neighbor:

“Of course,” he (Montag) said, “You’re our new neighbor, aren’t you?”

Also, we discover that Clarisse is serious and thoughtful. She’s whimsical and notices the beauty in the little things in life:

“You think too many things,” said Montag uneasily.

“…I’ve had lots of time for crazy thoughts.” (Clarisse)

He laughed.
She glanced quickly over. “Why are you laughing?”
“I don’t know.” He started to laugh again and stopped. “Why?”
“You laugh when I haven’t been funny and you answer right off. You never stop to think what I’ve asked you.”

“Bet I know something else you don’t. There’s dew on the grass in the morning… And if you look” – she nodded at the sky – “there’s a man in the moon.”

He said hello and then said, “What are you up to now?”
“I’m still crazy. The rain feels good. I love to walk in it.”

“What do you do, go around trying everything once?” he asked.
“Sometimes twice,” She looked at something in her hand.

“You’re peculiar, you’re aggravating, yet you’re easy to forgive. You say you’re seventeen?”
“Well – next month.”

From Clarisse’s physical action, even thought there isn’t very much penned into the book, we can come to some very important conclusions as to her character. Clarisse usually moves softly, gracefully, quietly. Whenever Montag views her, she seems to be part of nature. She was and old-fashioned girl, and, in her heart, she was part of an old-fashioned world, long forgotten to the future.

The autumn leaves blew over the moonlit pavement in such a way as to make the girl who was moving there seem fixed to a sliding walk, letting the motion of the wind and leaves carry her forward. Her head was half-bend to watch her shoes stir the circling leaves.

She was gone – running in the moonlight. Her front door shut gently.

…the girl was walking in the center of the sidewalk with her head up and the few drops falling on her face. She smiled when she saw Montag.

Physical description is a huge technique Bradbury uses to in characterizing all the people who play roles in Fahrenheit 451. He employs the uses of the metaphor and simile and uses them skillfully and masterfully. Weaving them into his descriptions, Bradbury’s words gain a life and breath and magic of their own and the decorations peppered into his paragraphs allow you to view his characters in a different light. Notice how he uses his art to its full advantage when describing Clarisse’s appearance:

Her face was slender and milk-white, and in it was a kind of gentle hunger that touched over everything with timeless curiosity. It was a look, almost, of pale surprise; the dark eyes were so fixed to the world that no move escaped them. Her dress was white and it whispered.

Her face turned to him now was fragile milk crystal with a soft and constant light in it. It was not the hysterical light of electricity but – what? But the strangely comfortable and rare and gently flattering light of a candle.

The girl’s face was there, really quite beautiful in memory: astonishing, in fact. She had a very thin face, like the dial of a small clock seen faintly in a dark room in the middle of a night when you waken to see the time and see the clock telling you the hour and the minute and the second, with a white silence and a glowing, all certainty and knowing what it had to tell of the night passing swiftly on toward further darkness, but moving also toward a new sun.

How like a mirror, too, her face. Impossible; for how many people did you know who refracted your own light to you?

Clarisse’s physical circumstances, as we read from her conversations with Montag, define her just as much as any of the other techniques used. From the text, we come to understand that Clarisse was born into an “odd” family. She was like a fish-out-of-water and was misunderstood by everyone. She did not attend school. People viewed her as anti-social and “not quite right” in the head.

“What’s going on?” Montag had rarely seen that many house lights.
“Oh, just my mother and father and uncle sitting around, talking. It’s like being a pedestrian, only rarer. My uncle was arrested another time – did I tell you? – for being a pedestrian. Oh, we’re most peculiar.”

“I’ve got to go see my psychiatrist now. They make me go. I make up things to say. I don’t know what he thinks of me… The psychiatrist wants to know why I go out and hike around in forests and watch the birds and collect butterflies… They want to know what I do with me time. I tell them that sometimes I just sit and think.”

“He felt at ease and comfortable. “Why aren’t you in school? I see you every day wandering around.”
“Oh, they don’t miss me,” she said. “I’m antisocial, they say. I don’t mix. It’s so strange. I’m very social indeed.”

“…But that was a long time ago when they had things different. They believed in responsibility, my uncle says. Do you know, I’m responsible. I was spanked when I needed it, years ago. And I do all the shopping and housecleaning by hand.”

So, in conclusion, with Fahrenheit 451, and, with any other book, by reading slowly and taking the time to dissect a character and discover who they are, we can understand a deeper sense of their personality and realize what the author left there, hidden for us to find. Ray Bradbury uses several techniques in characterization and they help us to understand his characters in different ways. Instead of just telling us outright what he wants us to know about Clarisse, we learn it from dialogue, her circumstances, and her physical appearance and actions. Flawlessly and brilliantly, Bradbury applies this method to characterization, with outstanding results.

 I do not own any of the quoted text. All was written by Ray Bradbury in his novel Fahrenheit 451

3 thoughts on “Characterization Techniques – Examples from Fahrenheit 451

  1. I’m writing an essay on Fahrenheit 451 right now (Thanks for some help on the characterization) and found your blog, I think it’s really cool!

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