Dandelion Wine | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Dandelion Wine | Chapters 25–26 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 25

Colonel Freeleigh dreams of apples falling from a tree until only one remains. In the dream, the narrator speaks directly to Colonel Freeleigh, addressing him as "you." The colonel wakes up not liking the dream and places a call to Mexico, where a man opens a window for the colonel to hear the sounds of Mexico City. The colonel imagines being 25 again, happy to be alive and experiencing the sights and smells of the city. Suddenly, the nurse who has come to check on him interrupts and discovers the phone in his lap, scolding him for exciting himself. He tells her he'd rather suffer and feel alive, able to tell the neighborhood boys his stories when they come to visit. The nurse tells him she will have to tell his grandson, who will have the phone taken out. The colonel feels that his whole body has slowly been replaced with that of an old man's, and now he feels the lifeline access to his memories being taken from him as well.

After the nurse leaves for the store, having removed his wheelchair to prevent him from using the phone, the colonel struggles out of bed and calls Mexico City again. Jorge, the man on the other end of the line, says the nurse has called and told him not to accept the colonel's calls. The colonel begs him to open the window for one last time so he can hear the sounds. Sometime later, the colonel's front door opens—Douglas and his friends have arrived, following the colonel's phone request to visit while the nurse is out. They enter the colonel's bedroom and find he has died, with the telephone in his hand. On the other end of the line is the sound of a window closing.

Chapter 26

The next day in the courthouse square, Tom and Douglas sit on the Civil War cannon. Douglas considers all the history that died with Colonel Freeleigh the day before. "Yesterday, a whole lot of dust settled for good," he says to Tom.

Analysis

It is significant that many summer rituals have to do with nature and the outdoor world, such as mowing grass, picking dandelions, and falling apples. In describing the apples falling from the trees, Ray Bradbury's narrator addresses "you" seemingly to bring readers into the story by taking on the perspective of an apple through use of the second person: "You are the last apple ... and you wait for the wind to work you ... free ... and drop you down." The effect of this narration blurs the distinction between humankind and nature. The next sentence, however, suggests that the scene is actually Colonel Freeleigh's dream, blurring the distinction between fantasy and reality even more. That Colonel Freeleigh can dream from the perspective of an apple is not that surprising, given his ability to reside so deeply in his memories that the children believe him to be a time machine. He is a man who lives vividly in the past, and the telephone is a lifeline that transports him to it.

Even though Colonel Freeleigh's nurse warns him that exciting himself with these memories is harmful to his health, he tells her that "it's better to have the quick fever every time" because it's all he has to live for, the only thing that truly brings him joy. Bradbury thus raises the thematic question of life and death: is it better to allow someone like Colonel Freeleigh these pleasures even if they hasten his death? It is not difficult to deduce the colonel's answer. His world has been so diminished by age and failing health, and for him it is unsettling that "now they were tampering with something more intangible—the memory." The colonel seemed to know on some level that having the audience of Douglas and his friends would keep his stories living on past his death, and he never minded if the "excitement" of their visits and the retellings of his adventures affected his health.

Bradbury focuses as well on the theme of memory in the character of the colonel. He is memory, for it is all that remains of him, all he has left of his former self. To lose access to memories would mean losing himself. In fact, that is what happens, in a literary sense. Knowing he shortly will be denied access to the telephone and visits from the boys, Colonel Freeleigh does in fact die—on the floor with the telephone in his hand. With his "figurative" lifeline cut, he is literally dead.

The scene is poignant and written so that readers can join the colonel in "hearing" the sounds of Mexico City through Jorge's open window. Sound images such as the metal horns and screeching of brakes and vendors selling fruit bring the colonel out of his present isolation, as he relives life as a young man of 25. Memory, in his case, is far more alive to him than his present. The scene is captured between two windows in Mexico City—first opening to let in the sounds and then closing for good when the sounds are no longer of use, gone from memory forever.

Upon hearing of Colonel Freeleigh's death, Tom and Douglas begin to realize the significance of it because of all the memories that died with him. Douglas tells Tom that the colonel's death means "yesterday the Civil War ended right here in this town forever," for Colonel Freeleigh was the last person alive who had lived through it. It is deeply upsetting to Douglas that "a whole lot of dust settled for good," and that he feels he didn't appreciate it fully while it was available to him. Douglas sees that beyond Colonel Freeleigh's death, the impact of the stories that died with him were enormous. This revelation shows how Douglas and Tom's understanding of aging and death is changing. The colonel's death is another sad loss for Douglas as he continues to feel the change in his life and suffer the sorrows and regrets that come with feeling alive.

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