Dandelion Wine | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Dandelion Wine | Chapters 23–24 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 23

Elmira Brown is startled when a mail carrier walks in her front door, forgetting that delivering mail is her husband's new job. He tells her that he has just delivered a book to their neighbor, Clara Goodwater, about Egyptian magic. Elmira goes outside to her porch and finds Tom on the lawn, examining ants. She tells him to follow her as she heads to Clara's house. When she trips over an iron dog in Clara's yard, she blames Clara Goodwater and Clara's magic. Elmira has Tom accompany her to Clara's front door. When Clara answers the door, Elmira accuses her of being a witch. Clara counters by accusing Elmira's husband, Sam, of being nosy and reading other people's mail. Clara informs her that she bought the book for her 10-year-old cousin, who is interested in magic tricks, but Elmira doesn't believe her. She also accuses Clara of cursing her with injuries that have caused her every year to lose the election for president of the Honeysuckle Ladies Lodge—a position Clara wins every year. When Clara reminds Elmira that she always nominates herself and gets one vote, Elmira accuses her of inflicting curses on her, causing injuries that prevent her from winning elections. After Elmira recites her catalog of injuries, Clara tells her that she is so clumsy she can't even "trot across an open meadow without falling into a well." Clara claims now to be interested in magic and teases angry Elmira Brown, who challenges Clara to a face-off in the election the next day. Soon after she leaves in a huff, "a car backing out of a garage" runs over her toe.

That night, Elmira makes a list of all the illnesses she has had in the past year, medicines she has taken, everything that has broken in her house, and the aches and pains she has that evening. She adds up the cost to $10,000 in personal suffering.

The next morning, Elmira goes to the library and then the drugstore and begins mixing a concoction, telling her husband that she plans to "fight magic with magic." The potion contains menthol, grape juice, rhubarb, and clover buds, all of which, according to the library book she checks out, have magical properties. She plans to drink it just before the Honeysuckle Ladies Lodge election and leaves to collect Tom to accompany her. When she and Tom arrive at the Lodge, she drinks the potion. Clara calls Elmira to the podium to speak, and Elmira drags Tom with her. She informs Clara that she drank a potion to protect herself and attempts to persuade the audience that Clara is a witch who has threatened them all with curses for the last 10 years. However, she—Elmira— will "exorcise this witch." As she speaks, she begins to feel woozy and commands the room to vote for president. Every person, except Elmira, votes for Clara. When Elmira turns to her, she sees Clara pull out from her purse a small wax doll covered in rusted thumbtacks. Elmira asks Tom to take her to the ladies' room. Running ahead of him, she makes a wrong turn and falls down the stairs.

The story remembered later is how Elmira fell and Clara cradled her at the bottom of the stairs, promising to use her magic for good instead of evil. She pulled the tacks out of the doll and promised Elmira she could be president of the lodge.

Chapter 24

Telling Douglas the aftermath of what transpired between Elmira Brown and Clara Goodwater, Tom is puzzled by the fact that the women went from intense conflict to laughter. Douglas asks him to confirm that magic took place, amazed their town is "full of stuff" such as spells, wax dolls, and witches.

Analysis

Elmira Brown is portrayed by the narrator as clumsy and easily startled, with a singular rival in the form of Clara Goodwater, who is the long-standing president of the Honeysuckle Ladies Lodge. That Tom is the witness to their battle raises the question of the reliability of his story, although it is told from the perspective of the narrator. At the end of the episode, the narrator shifts from telling the story as it unfolds to seeing it years later, saying, "for months and years after it was told," thus turning the story into something more of a town legend or folktale.

The fight between Elmira and Clara also echoes the theme of fate versus free will with which Douglas has begun to grapple in the aftermath of John's moving, as he realizes some things are beyond his control. The hapless Elmira believes Clara is the cause of her misfortunes—and in a surprise twist, Clara "admits" to practicing witchcraft. Whether she is teasing Elmira or whether she does practice it is uncertain. Readers will likely find it hard to believe that Clara is a witch, but she confirms Elmira's belief. Whether it's to humor her or to encourage Elmira to get past the idea that her problems result from someone else's motives is, once again, a matter of interpretation. Yet, the scene between the two inserts some of the humor and fantasy that Ray Bradbury weaves throughout the book, causing the reader to question what is real and what might be mythical about this town and its inhabitants. Elmira accepts no responsibility for her own failures in life—and in some instances she isn't responsible. However, it is hard to draw the line as to where Clara may be responsible—if she is—and where Elmira uses her as a scapegoat. Despite accusations and witchcraft, the fact seems to be that underneath Elmira's misfortunes is the reality that the other women either don't like her or they see her as disagreeable and incompetent. These are the reasons she loses the election every year.

Tom's telling the story to Douglas brings a new mystery and revelation for them—the town is full of things and events they never knew existed: "spells and wax dolls and needles and elixirs." These elements blur the lines between reality and fantasy for them, creating a world that feels more like a village in a fairy tale than an ordinary midwestern town. It also leads the reader to wonder how much of the story is Tom's imagination and how much is reality. Moreover, it shows that as children, Tom and Douglas don't really understand the nuances of the relationship between Clara and Elmira. Through the lens of Tom, the explanation for their behavior is based on magic.

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