Dandelion Wine | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Dandelion Wine | Chapters 33–34 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 33

Douglas catches a jar of fireflies for him and Tom to use while reading and writing in the dark at night. They add more revelations from the summer to their list, including the things they have learned not to depend on, such as machines, tennis shoes, people, and trolleys. All die, go away, rust, or wear out in one way or another. Douglas begins to reach the conclusion that he, too, will someday die, but the fireflies stop glowing before he can write this thought down. He releases them back into the night.

Chapter 34

At the penny arcade, Douglas and Tom approach the Tarot Witch machine. Douglas is thinking of a cowboy movie he saw the previous week, in which he felt shocked and upset when a man in the film was shot dead. Although he has seen countless films like this, his understanding of death has changed this summer now that Colonel Freeleigh and Great-Grandma are dead. He has realized that he, too, will die someday. He slides a penny into the Tarot Witch's machine to show Tom, but nothing happens. The proprietor of the arcade, Mr. Black, hangs an out-of-order sign on the machine, and Douglas is upset. He slides another penny in, and the witch begins to move. A card slides out that predicts "a long life and a lively one." Tom slides a coin in next to receive a card, and they run out of the arcade. Outside they discover Tom's fortune card is blank.

Douglas realizes that he has been drawn to the arcade this summer because of its predictability and certainty. He tells Tom that they need to go to the library "and figure this thing out." Believing the witch wrote a secret invisible message on the card, Douglas lights a match to see it, but the card burns instead. He tells Tom he saw the word: secours!, which means "help!" in French. Douglas believes this word is a message to save the witch. Tom encourages Douglas to go to the library to research spells while he stays at the arcade to distract Mr. Black during closing time.

A little while later, Douglas returns and sees Tom hiding in a doorway nearby. Tom tells Douglas his plan worked—he used all his pennies so Mr. Black would close the arcade early. But he has returned, and the boys watch him through the window, waving a knife in the Tarot Witch's face. They hear him ask her to tell him if the arcade will ever make money or if he should declare bankruptcy. After receiving his card, he punches the glass, shattering it. Douglas shouts, and Mr. Black turns in surprise and faints. Douglas then tells Tom that it's time to kidnap the Tarot Witch. When Tom asks why, Douglas tells him it's because he only just recently realized he is alive and will someday die. This revelation has frightened him and made him want to help the Tarot Witch escape from her curse as an arcade game so that she can tell him how to live his life and avoid dying.

Suddenly, Mr. Black comes upon them and accuses them of stealing the Tarot Witch. He grabs her, throws her into the ravine, and then leaves. Douglas begins to cry and tells Tom to go find their father and bring him. By midnight, the three have reassembled the Tarot Witch in the garage. Douglas tells Tom he'll go back to the arcade to buy the rest of her machine from Mr. Black. Douglas then asks Tom if he wants his fortune, and a blank card falls from the Tarot Witch's sleeve.

Analysis

Douglas's revelations after witnessing the cumulative events of death and loss over the course of the summer lead him closer to the sense of his own mortality—and he fears it. The notion of being alive seemed, at the beginning of summer, to be a positive communion with nature, a desire to experience all that life has to offer. However, by late summer Douglas realizes that with being alive comes dying—this is a revelation to him. Although he knows he is alive, as death circles closer and closer to him, he realizes it will come for him too, some day. Much of childhood is about feeling safe and being able to depend on things—and people—forever. He has not known permanent loss and cannot yet comprehend it. Douglas's lists here are about reasons one can't depend on things or people. But it really is a list about impermanence. He can't bring himself to finish the sentiment that "I, DOUGLAS SPAULDING, SOMEDAY ... MUST ..." because that sentence ends with the word die. It's almost as though by not finishing the sentence, he can prevent knowing what he already has learned—it's a concept too frightening for him. It's comparable to his conception of the passing of time: if one runs, time passes faster, and if one moves slowly, time slows down. As he releases the fireflies, they too come to reflect the impermanence as they twinkle off into the disappearing night.

Douglas and Tom's experience with the arcade and the Tarot Witch reinforces a continuing element of magic into the novel and also speaks to Douglas's search for the meaning of fate and free will. Because the events of the summer have left Douglas feeling uncertain about permanence, he believes that the Tarot Witch's cards can reassure him about the future. He solemnly tells Tom, "It's not a plain old card, it's more than a penny, it's life and death." Douglas also seems to have enough self-awareness to understand why he has been drawn to the arcade recently: "there was a world completely set in place, predictable, certain, sure, with its bright silver slots." Although the premise of arcade is that it features games of chance and skill, most arcade game outcomes are predetermined so that the arcade can make money and keep people playing. Drawn to the illusion of free will, Douglas knows underneath that the outcomes have already been chosen. Douglas's attraction to the Tarot Witch is that she will be able to tell him through her cards how to avoid death, knowing he has become aware of his own mortality. He clings to this idea so fiercely that even after the machine breaks, he convinces Tom that reviving her is imperative to their survival. In a similar sense, their quest to fix the Tarot Witch is also emblematic of the childhood desire to keep magic alive, which seems to disappear with the realities of adulthood that descend. Douglas senses that once he crosses that threshold—which the events of the summer are conspiring to have him do—there will be no going back.

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