Dandelion Wine | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Dandelion Wine | Chapters 1–2 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1

It is a quiet dawn morning, and summer is beginning. Douglas has just woken up, excited about summer. One night each week he is allowed to leave his parents' home and go next door to his grandparents' house to sleep in their third-story cupola bedroom, which Douglas sees as a "sorcerer's tower." This morning, he stands in the window and exhales deeply, watching the streetlights go out. He "exhales again and again and the stars begin to vanish." He points his finger at houses as lights turn on and gives commands aloud for people to wake up. He appears to be "conducting an orchestra" and is satisfied with his work as the town comes to life below him.

Chapter 2

As Douglas crosses the lawn that morning, he walks into a spiderweb, making him believe that today will be different. His father takes him and his younger brother Tom out to the country, where they look for grapes. Douglas senses that they are being watched, surrounded. As his father and Tom bend down to rustle through the bush, Douglas feels the sense has been shattered, that "the terrible prowler, the magnificent runner, the leaper, the shaker of souls, vanished." After picking grapes and strawberries, they stop to eat lunch, and Douglas wonders what it was he sensed earlier. As they go back to picking, he feels it again, "breathing on my neck, almost!" He notices that the more Tom talks, the closer the feeling gets. Suddenly, Tom pounces on him, and they roll in the dirt fighting. Douglas feels that he now understands what he sensed—that he is alive. He realizes that he wants "to feel all there is to feel."

Analysis

Ray Bradbury uses imagery and plays upon the senses to conjure up the feeling of summer in the Midwest. In this way the novel's setting becomes something of a character as well. The narrator describes how "summer gathered in the weather," the wind "having the proper touch," and the world's breathing being "long and warm and slow." The sensations of summer are integral to the world of 12- year-old Douglas Spaulding because summer is linked with "freedom and living." Douglas is introduced as a character who is just beginning to feel his independence and individuality in the world, testing his liberty and his boundaries. The freedom to spend one night a week in his grandparents' cupola room imbues him with the feeling of power and magic.

Bradbury also establishes Douglas's fascination with magic, as he seemingly breathes life into the town from his perch above it—in so doing, the mundane becomes magical. As a child, Bradbury was fascinated by magic, and Douglas's pretending echoes Bradbury's childhood interest. By having Douglas "conducting like an orchestra," or orchestrating others' actions, Bradbury establishes the theme of fate versus free will. Douglas imagines he can command the town's fate, as well as his own, and his "success," a matter of timing, makes him believe that "it'll be a fine season."

One of Douglas's attributes is noticing the smallest shifts in the town's environment and relationships, beginning with his own. Noticing a spiderweb break across his face in the morning causes him to believe that "this day was going to be different." Bradbury highlights how children are perhaps more highly attuned to the natural world because their sense and scale of the world is much smaller and more intimate. Yet, Douglas is also attuned to something bigger than himself that he can't see, something he describes as "the terrible prowler, the magnificent runner, the leaper, the shaker of souls." Feeling this entity or sensation stalking him, Tom, and their father that morning, Douglas is wide open to it. Although the sensation feels somewhat like a threat, it also leads him to the revelation that he is alive. He describes the feeling as though the world, like a "great iris of an even more gigantic eye" encompassing everything, "stared back at him." This image shows Douglas at a moment in which he sees the world seeing him, that he is merely one of many living things. His sensation of something stalking him is the knowledge he is alive—and that with life comes death. It startles him to realize that he never fully knew this before this moment. But now that he does, he wants "to feel all there is to feel." What Douglas may not realize yet is to feel happiness is also to feel sorrow.

Just as Green Town is based on Waukegan, Douglas Spaulding is based to an extent on 12-year-old Ray Bradbury. Readers may note Douglas is Bradbury's own middle name and that Spaulding is his father's middle name.

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