Dandelion Wine | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Dandelion Wine | Chapters 19–20 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 19

Miss Fern and Miss Roberta are in their attic, breathless and worried. Their major worry is that they have killed a man, Mister Quartermain. As they peer out of the window, they see Douglas, knowing he has come to "ask for a ride in our Green Machine." The two women recall the very enthusiastic salesman who sold them the Green Machine, a kind of electric buggy. It served them well for the first week, before the accident that afternoon: while driving on the sidewalk they hit Mr. Quartermain. Instead of stopping, they fled back home. Now they wonder whether they should tell someone, but they lament the idea of not being able to drive the Green Machine ever again. Their brother comes home and delivers the message that Douglas saw what happened and that everything is all right.

Chapter 20

A motorman operates the local trolley early in the morning. At noon he stops the trolley and calls out to all the boys and girls to board the trolley free of charge. Mr. Tridden, the motorman, tells them this is the last ride—there will be no more trolley when the bus starts tomorrow. He takes the children on an off-route ride past the town's limits and produces picnic baskets full of sandwiches for the children to eat near a lake. Charlie Woodman finds the prospect of buses upsetting, since they "won't even give us a chance to be late to school." Douglas senses that even though the trolley tracks will be covered, it will take him a long time to forget them and the sounds of the trolley.

Analysis

The plight of Miss Fern, Miss Roberta, and the Green Machine is comedic but with the threat of tragedy. Like the Happiness Machine, the Green Machine is touted as a piece of progress, something that will enable the sisters to travel around town with ease. Yet, they don't anticipate—and the salesman doesn't mention—its risks and potential danger. The lack of knowledge leads them to hit Mr. Quartermain while they were riding the machine on the sidewalk. Although Douglas doesn't play a central role in the event, the reader sees it through his eyes. It is yet another downside to so-called progress—not so much the machine itself but the inability to foresee its dangers.

Another event that seems to herald progress is the retirement of the slow-moving trolley to make way for buses as the local mode of transportation. The trolley seems a sensory experience for the residents of Green Town, who recognize its sounds as it travels about. That the operator, Mr. Tridden, takes the children on a free ride with a packed picnic to the outskirts of town shows how much the trolley links the community, forming important relationships such as the one between Mr. Tridden and the children. It seems unlikely that the new bus drivers will have the same history and relationship with the town. Therefore, although the event is an enjoyable surprise for the children, the narrator implies that it is a bittersweet moment in which a long tradition is ending for the sake of progress.

This situation is reminiscent of Grandfather's advice to Bill Forrester: something essential is always lost in the name of progress, such as a general savoring of an experience. Charlie echoes Grandfather's sentiment when he complains to Douglas that school buses—fast and efficient (more than trolleys, at any rate)—won't give them the chance to be late to school: "Think of that nightmare, Doug, just think it all over." Charlie and Douglas recognize that losing the trolley means their lives will change in some way and that riding it will become a memory, another ritual to be relegated to memory. As much as Douglas cherishes the rites of summer, he is beginning to understand that things can't stay the same forever, no matter how much he savors the experience.

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