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Dandelion Wine | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Dandelion Wine | Chapters 29–30 | Summary



Chapter 29

Douglas, Tom, and Charlie Woodman discuss whether happy endings happen in real life or only in the movies. Douglas is thinking of what happened between Bill Forrester and Helen Loomis, asking the others, "Don't you figure someone slipped up there?" The boys arrive at Summer's Ice House in search of "some piece of the forgotten winter." Charlie posits that the Lonely One lives there. In the spooky mist of vapors curling in the dark ice house, Charlie drops a piece of ice down Tom's back, and Tom screams.

Chapter 30

One night, Francine visits Lavinia Nebbs, and they walk to the movies. As they pass by her house, Miss Fern calls out to warn them that the Lonely One is strangling women again and it is foolish to be out on the street at night. Lavinia scoffs. Francine notes that three women have been killed or have disappeared over the summer and tells Lavinia she's afraid to take the shortcut through the ravine to the movie theater. As they walk down the path, they come across the body of a recently missing woman, Elizabeth Ramsell, who has been strangled. The police arrive, and Lavinia and Francine are allowed to leave. Lavinia proposes that they still go to the movies as a distraction, an idea that upsets Francine. On the path back, they encounter Douglas watching the goings-on below.

Lavinia and Francine stop at Helen Greer's house an hour later than planned, as she was to go with them. They tell her about what happened to Elizabeth in the ravine but refrain from saying they found her. Helen reluctantly joins them, and the women all notice the doors locking as they walk along. Lavinia reassures them of safety in numbers and reminds them that the Lonely One seems to strike only at monthly intervals. Suddenly, the women see a figure behind a tree and scream, but it is only Frank Dillon trying to spook them. When the women go to the drugstore to buy candy for the movies, the druggist tells Lavinia a man was asking about her earlier. The druggist told the man where Lavinia lives, thereby upsetting Francine. Because Lavinia lives near the ravine, it seems possible the man might have been the killer mistaking Elizabeth for Lavinia. Lavinia tells them not to worry—if she's the next victim, she's fine with it because her life has so little excitement.

The women reach the theater safely, but the manager emerges to announce the police have asked them to close early "so everyone can be out at a decent hour." They will show one more film, however. Helen says she noticed a man like the one the druggist described come in and sit a row behind them and says she is going to get the manager. The man turns out to the manager's brother, and Helen is embarrassed for making a fuss. The women accompany Francine home first, and Lavinia promises to call her when she gets to her house. After she walks Helen home, Helen invites her to stay the night, but Lavinia declines. As she walks home alone, she suddenly hears a man singing among the trees and walking toward her. She is relieved when she sees it is Officer Kennedy, who offers to accompany her home. She declines, feeling she doesn't want to walk through the ravine with any man. As she continues to walk, she remembers a scary story from her childhood and screams. She feels foolish but then notices an echo every time she takes a step, as though someone were following her. Lavinia runs home across the ravine, reaches her house, and locks the door quickly behind her. She peers out of the window and realizes no one was following her, but before she can turn on the light, she hears someone clear his throat.


After their experiences with death this summer and witnessing the unrequited relationship between Helen Loomis and Bill Forrester, Douglas and Tom ponder the reality of happy endings. Their conversation highlights the frequency with which children get false messages from movies and books and must learn through experience that the real world is more mysterious and nuanced. Being younger, Tom seems more able to take the short-term view that because he feels good going to bed, he gets a happy ending once a day. His world as a child is narrow and insular, and even the small age difference between him and Douglas is becoming apparent in how they perceive uncertainties in the world. Tom is not quite "alive" yet in the same way as Douglas. Tom's sensibilities are centered around himself, whereas Douglas's are becoming more universal.

The mysterious, menacing figure of the Lonely One reemerges when the boys conjecture he lives at Summer's Ice House, and their conversation foreshadows the hysteria about to grip the town over his actions. It's significant that the Lonely One's arrival centers on another character in town, Lavinia Nebbs, because Douglas is a witness to much of what transpires. Indeed, the knowledge of what happens forces his understanding of the world to change. Lavinia is a single woman who flouts convention and common sense when the rumor arises that a man suspected to be the Lonely One was asking about where she lived. She chooses to walk home alone through the spookiest part of town. The setting of the ravine as a place of mystery, horror, and death becomes prominent in her story, as it is when she and Francine stumble across the body of Elizabeth Ramsell. Lavinia chooses to walk back across it alone after walking her friends home.

Lavinia by turns is portrayed as either incredibly brave or incredibly foolish and certainly proud of her independence and fearlessness. In contrast to Lavinia, her friends are terrified and rightly concerned for her safety. However, Lavinia appears willing to tempt fate, declaring, "If I'm the next victim, let me be the next." Her bold declaration seems to come from boredom, implying she craves some excitement and the possibility of danger. Helen Greer goes so far as to accuse Lavinia of having a death wish, but Lavinia claims only to be enjoying herself, "precariously, but safely."

Ray Bradbury hints at the tug-of-war between life and death that hovers in the background of the novel. Significantly, the wild, dark unknown of the ravine plays a role in its contrast to the brightly lit, unthreatening town. The Lonely One seems a manifestation of the ravine and all the fear it represents. Lavinia's description of racing through the ravine on her way home echoes Douglas's earlier observation that something dark is stalking him in the woods with Tom and their father. Lavinia feels that "only the ravine existed and lived, black, and huge, about her." Although Douglas's sensations lead him to the revelation he is alive, Lavinia's feelings align more closely with Tom's on the night he and his mother search for Douglas in the ravine. The threat of death is what makes living feel so heightened.

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