Dandelion Wine | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Course Hero, "Dandelion Wine Study Guide," August 16, 2019, accessed October 23, 2019, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Dandelion-Wine/.

Dandelion Wine | Chapters 27–28 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 27

Grandfather and Douglas begin making the second harvest of dandelion wine for the summer. Douglas examines the bottles on the shelf from earlier in the summer, noting the bottle from the day he found out he was "alive," and wonders why it isn't brighter than the others. He feels similarly when he sees the bottle from the day John Huff moved, wondering why it isn't darker. Seeing the bottle from the day Colonel Freeleigh died, Douglas wonders why it has no sediment, no "buffalo dust," no "sulphur from the guns at Shiloh." He contemplates how long moments and memories last and then complains to Grandfather that August seems gloomy, with fewer machines, fewer friends, and fewer dandelions. Grandfather tells him that "talk like that is worse than swearing." He makes Douglas take a swig of the dandelion wine and run around the block.

Chapter 28

On the first day of August, Bill Forrester takes Douglas to get ice cream—lime vanilla ice sounds unusual and particularly appealing. At the ice cream parlor, they join the elderly Helen Loomis, who recognizes Douglas as a Spaulding because he has his "grandfather's head." Bill admits to Helen that he was in love with her once; intrigued, she invites him to her house the following day for tea.

Bill arrives at Helen's, and they discuss what it means to know something. Helen believes that age doesn't necessarily generate wisdom, only a mask old people wear. She also tells Bill she's glad they met later in life because she would not have wanted him to meet her at 21 "and full of foolishness." Helen admits that even though she is old with "a body like ... a dragon," she remembers the girl she used to be and declares, "she's safe inside, still alive." For the rest of the afternoon, she tells Bill of all her travels, weaving stories around him. He tells her he caught a glimpse of "the swan" still inside her, which surprises her and brings tears to her eyes. She tells him to leave but invites him to return the next day.

Bill returns every day to visit, despite the gossip about them that begins. Helen continues to tell him her stories, transporting him so that they become his memories, too, and "the things she had done alone, they were now doing together." One afternoon, Helen asks Bill to explain the statement he made when they first met, that he was once in love with her. He tells her he saw a photo of her at age 20. Unaware it was an old photo, he tore it out of the newspaper, carrying it with him until someone saw it and told him that it was taken a long time ago. Bill had planned to attend a dance in town that evening that Helen was marshaling, in an attempt to find the girl in the picture. Helen thanks him for seeing her photo, clipping it, and wanting to find her. She also tells Bill that he reminds her of someone she loved long ago, someone with whom she refused to settle down and later regretted her decision.

By the end of August, the pattern of days begins to feel familiar. Bill greets Helen in her garden one afternoon as she is writing a letter to him. When he receives the letter, she tells him, he will know she is dead, adding that she believes she will die in a few days. She hopes they find each other again at the right time and in another lifetime. She also makes him promise not to live to be too old, because "there is no telling when another Helen Loomis might be born" and it would be unfortunate if he were to become an old man and meet her when she was too young. Finally, Bill asks her to tell him about her youth in Green Town.

Two days later, Helen's letter arrives. Before he opens it, Bill takes Douglas for ice cream, noticing how slowly time seems to be moving. He finally reads Helen's letter to himself, speaking the words out loud: "a dish of lime-vanilla ice."

Analysis

Douglas has learned to count the passage of summer by the different harvests of dandelion wine he and Grandfather make. June and July have passed, and August is on the horizon. Because the wine is so alive to Douglas, he is surprised that each bottle doesn't look different given the event that happened on the day it was made. The wine symbolizes these days, and Douglas would like more obvious signs. He can already count the significant memories of the summer by their dates: the day he found out he was alive, the day John moved away. His thoughts lead him to a sense of gloominess that some things can't be remembered clearly forever, just as the wine shows no indication of one day being different from another. While Douglas broods over the losses of summer, Grandfather, in his eternal optimism and pragmatic midwestern way of thinking, counsels Douglas to raise his spirits by exercise. Grandfather himself certainly does keep busy and allows no time for such contemplation.

The story of Helen Loomis and Bill Forrester is a story about time and memory. Like Tom as an unwitting observer in the encounter between Elmira Brown and Clara Goodwater, Douglas assumes that role in the story that unfolds between Helen and Bill. An early mystery is established when Bill, 60-something years younger than Helen, reveals that he was in love with her years ago. Yet, the two have a strong connection from their first meeting. Helen's age is emphasized when the narrator describes her as like "a gray and lost quivering moth," emphasizing the ways in which elderly people are often perceived as less than human or a relic of the past. Helen's discussion with Bill on the subject of aging echoes Mrs. Bentley's earlier revelation that the idea of getting older is hard to accept. Helen reveals that for most old people it's merely "an act and a mask." Helen also sums up the uncanny effect of inhabiting different versions of oneself over time and compares herself to a dragon that has eaten a swan. She tells Bill that that version of her is "safe inside, still alive; the essential swan hasn't changed a feather." Although she can't remember what she looked like, she feels the core of who she is has never changed. Yet, when Bill admits he saw the swan inside her for a fleeting moment, she seems upset because she will never be that version of herself again and that is the version Bill fell in love with.

Like Colonel Freeleigh's, Helen's memories transport her audience—Bill—to another time, and her stories forge a deep bond between them as he "accompanies" her on these memories. She is a time traveler as much as Colonel Freeleigh and his audience, and in a way Bill becomes the companion she never had on her adventures as she relives them. Also like Colonel Freeleigh, Helen seems to have a heightened sense of the time remaining to her and uses the language of Douglas and Tom to compare herself to "machinery" that is slowing down. In fact, the machinery slows so much that it no longer functions. Having discovered Bill Forrester in the last weeks of her life, Helen feels more alive than she has in years. Memory allows her to relive her adventures and share them with another person. Her belief in reincarnation allows her to die with the hope that she and Bill will be reunited in another life.

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