Dandelion Wine | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Dandelion Wine | Chapters 13–14 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 13

Leo Auffmann looks through his garage on Sunday morning, pondering how to begin building a happiness machine. He wanders back into the house to quiz Lena on whether she feels happy. She tells him to stop thinking so much and scolds him for causing her to burn something in the oven. Over the next few days, Leo pays attention to what makes people laugh and seem happy. Yet, whenever he returns to his garage to begin building something, he feels a sense of failure. Ten days later, however, he emerges triumphant, announcing to his family that the Happiness Machine is ready. Lena scolds him for disappearing and ignoring his family, and Leo collapses on the floor.

The next morning, Leo notices dozens of birds fluttering and a pack of dogs peering into his garage. Children and neighbors are in the driveway. Leo knows it is the sound of the Happiness Machine that has called them. Still exhausted, Leo decides that they will all try the machine together tomorrow. That night, however, the sound of his son Saul crying wakes him, and he realizes Saul visited the Happiness Machine. Lena is unhappy that Leo endangered Saul, and she begins to split up their belongings, threatening to leave. He takes her to the Happiness Machine to prove he didn't intentionally give Saul nightmares. Lena gets into the machine. At first her response is one of awe and delight, but then she begins weeping. When she emerges, she claims that witnessing the potential for happiness made her realize she didn't have any in her life. She also tells Leo people don't want good things to last forever—the point of happiness is that it is fleeting. Leo gets into the machine to check what she says, but soon after he enters, the machine catches fire. The neighborhood comes out to watch the firefighters put it out, and Leo tells Grandfather, Douglas, and Tom that he will show them the real Happiness Machine. He takes them to the window and shows them his family inside.

Chapter 14

Twice a year Douglas's family brings the rugs into the yard to clean and beat the dust and dirt from them. As Tom beats the rugs, he says he can see the whole town in them, and 15 years of history. He says he can also see the future, "where we'll be walking, running around, tomorrow."

Analysis

Leo Auffmann's experience building the Happiness Machine and his family's experience using it show that progress is not necessarily always a positive thing. Lena brings up one aspect of its negative effects: showing her happiness only made her sadder upon emerging and returning to reality. She also implies that the feeling of happiness is the way it is because of its fleeting nature: the fact that it can't last forever is what sharpens it. She asks Leo, "Who wants a sunset to last? Who wants perfect temperature? After a while, who would notice?"

Leo hasn't been able to anticipate the cost of encountering real happiness. Lena serves as a foil to him in that by necessity, she is focused on their present lives, raising six children and trying to survive. Leo's mind is in the future, and his lack of focus on the present puts his family in jeopardy when the machine catches fire. The failure of the machine also echoes Grandfather's sentiments that not all progress is good—that to be content one needs access to nature, not machines.

After the fire, Leo's advice to Douglas and Tom seems to emphasize that more commonalities than differences exist between the beginning of life and the end of life. He tells them, "The first thing you learn ... is you're a fool. The last thing you learn ... is you're the same fool." Because Douglas and Tom are young enough to believe adulthood equates with wisdom, Leo's observation may indeed surprise them.

Rug beating is another Spaulding summer ritual. For the women and children, the tradition seems a way to mark time and history as they notice stains and general wear and tear on the rugs. Tom's childlike imagination goes further—enabling him visualize events that "happened in that house in all those years right here" in the stains. He is able to see the historical significance of the family's patterns and how in some ways these patterns anticipate future actions.

Interesting to note, too, is that the narrator makes no mention of a vacuum cleaner, which would dispense with the need for rug beating. These machines were in use during the 1920s, if not as widely as later in the century. However, regular vacuuming—if the Spaulding family owned a vacuum cleaner—would hardly have the same ritualistic cache as the semiannual rug beating. This is another machine that may make life easier but provide less of an opportunity to savor life in the way the Spauldings do during these times. The incident parallels Grandfather's reaction to the new lawn.

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