Dandelion Wine | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Dandelion Wine | Chapters 15–16 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 15

One day during summer Mrs. Bentley comes outside to find Tom and two girls—Jane and Alice—on her lawn. An ice cream wagon goes by, and she buys them ice cream. When Mrs. Bentley introduces herself, Tom can't believe that "old ladies had first names." She tells them that she was once a little girl, but the children don't believe her and leave, thinking she has been lying. She is upset by their departure. When they return to her street later that evening, she calls them on the porch to show them some things—a comb, jacks, a ring, and a picture of herself as a little girl, all relics of her childhood. The children still refuse to believe the photo is of Mrs. Bentley. Jane says she will believe Mrs. Bentley was once young only if she can find someone who knew her when she was 10, which Mrs. Bentley cannot. Mrs. Bentley warns them that they will be old someday, just like her, but she realizes "they can't imagine a change they can't see." The girls leave, taking Mrs. Bentley's childhood belongings with them—thinking she stole them from someone else—and angering her.

That night Mrs. Bentley, who has kept trunks full of old clothes and mementoes, remembers how her late husband used to accuse her of "trying to be the things you were, instead of the person you are tonight." Holding on to objects would only hurt her later, he claimed. She decides that in the morning she will settle down to being herself in the present.

The next morning the girls appear on her porch again, asking Mrs. Bentley if she has any more things for little girls. She gives Jane a dress and tells them to pick anything else they want. She asks the girls to help her throw other things away in a fire she builds in the backyard. All summer long Tom and the two girls return to eat ice cream on Mrs. Bentley's porch, and when they ask her how old she has always been she replies with her age—that she has always been that age and was never young.

Chapter 16

Douglas and Tom continue adding to their list of summer rituals and discoveries. Tom adds his new discovery from Mrs. Bentley: old people were never children. Douglas has never thought of it, and Tom finds it sad.

Analysis

Mrs. Bentley's encounter with Tom, Alice, and Jane shows the generational divide between the young and the old that runs through the book. Although initially delighted to befriend the children on her lawn, Mrs. Bentley is dismayed when she learns they see her as having always been old, never a child or a young woman. She realizes, "I do resent having my childhood taken away from me." If no one can see her as having been young once, it's almost as though she begins to doubt her own memories and existence. As the girls argue with her about being a child, she thinks to herself, "children are children, old women are old women, and nothing in between." She realizes that children "can't imagine a change they can't see."

This revelation highlights the difference in the way younger and older characters in the novel experience life. Characters such as Douglas and Tom have difficulty understanding certain things about the world until they experience it for themselves, and the adults find themselves frustrated trying to explain those things. Nonetheless, the three children's reaction also causes a shift in Mrs. Bentley's thinking—whereas once she clung to memories of her past, she begins to see that "once a time was over, it was done." The children's sense of the eternal present reveals to her that she rarely inhabits it. It's a lesson her husband once tried to teach her, but like Douglas and Tom, she doesn't really know what it means until she experiences it. It's also true that because the children have no context for understanding what it feels like to get older, they cannot comprehend that Mrs. Bentley was once young.

The revelation about older people never having been young is one Douglas and Tom add to their growing list. Unlike the sense of being alive and the threat of death, it is a false revelation to them because they have no context in which to understand the concept of aging over a long period of time. In a sense, by showing these revelations as they are discovered, Ray Bradbury highlights the coming-of-age process, as children mature intellectually by grasping more abstract concepts, usually by correcting false assumptions.

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