Dandelion Wine | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Dandelion Wine | Chapters 37–38 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 37

Douglas and Tom wake up in the morning to very hot weather, and Tom notices that Douglas doesn't feel well. After he tells Mother he thinks Douglas is sick, she calls the doctor, who says he doesn't know what's wrong. All day Tom and Mother try to cool Douglas down with ice packs. Douglas's fever doesn't break, and he hallucinates about the summer's events. He sees the trolley sparking and clanging, John Huff freezing into a statue and falling away, the Green Machine sinking into the grass, Colonel Freeleigh collapsing like a marionette, the flawed Happiness Machine disappearing with Mr. Auffmann, and his great-grandmother singing and hammering on the roof.

Tom is outside and sees Mr. Jonas and his wagon approaching. Tom tells him that Douglas is sick and dying. Tom begins crying, telling Mr. Jonas that he always thought he hated Douglas because they fight a lot, but if Mr. Jonas had something that might help Douglas, Tom would change. He tells Mr. Jonas how unlucky Douglas has been all summer. Mr. Jonas tells Tom he'll take a look around town for something that might help and return after supper. In the meantime, he gives Tom a set of Japanese wind crystals to hang in Douglas's window to distract him. But there is no wind, and the crystals can't move.

After supper, Mother emerges from the house, where Mr. Jonas is waiting. He asks her how Douglas is doing and if he can visit and bring him something he has found. She tells him that the doctor, who doesn't know what's wrong, says he isn't to be disturbed. Thanking Mr. Jonas, she declines to invite him in.

The doctor returns and leaves again, still uncertain about Douglas's condition. Tom, Mother, and Father take Douglas outside to sleep on a cot in the yard where it might be cooler. After midnight, a voice begins to sing, and down the street Mr. Jonas and his wagon arrive. He gets out, holding two green bottles that "glittered like cats' eyes." He tells Douglas, who is sleeping, that some people "turn sad awfully young," he himself being one of those people. He also informs Douglas that he is leaving the two bottles with him to drink their contents "with your nose" when he wakes up. One bottle is "Green Dusk for Dreaming Brand Pure Northern Air," whose contents—air and aromas from exotic places—Mr. Jonas bottled himself. Moments later, Mr. Jonas leaves, and Douglas begins to open his eyes.

Chapter 38

Tom checks on his brother to discover he is doing better. Douglas's breath smells like cool nights, cool water, snow, and moss. The next morning, the caterpillars disappear, and the cicadas stop singing. As rain begins to fall, Douglas, back inside in his bedroom, opens his eyes and reaches for his list of discoveries and revelations.

Analysis

Ray Bradbury paints an impressive sensory picture of the stifling heat outside mirroring Douglas's intense fever. Just as the town waits for a breeze to break the agony, so does Douglas's family search for a break in his fever by any means possible. The experience also hints that even Tom is beginning to understand the existence of threats and a fundamental unknown with which he must become more comfortable, as evidenced by his confronting the possibility of losing Douglas twice in the novel. Although he has yet to face the same crisis of his own mortality as Douglas has faced, the reader knows the moment can't be too far off—next summer, perhaps. Douglas's fever hallucinations bring into clarity all he has lost this summer, one major blow after another. Tom, however, proving his youth—and the sense of his not yet being "alive"—lists Douglas's losses in terms of broken or lost toys or a "catcher's mitt." The human losses don't figure in the list.

The arrival of Mr. Jonas is significant, given his role of providing for the town's inhabitants whatever they may need that they don't know they are looking for. The offerings he brings Douglas to break his fever mark one of the most magical moments of the book, requiring both the reader and a seemingly unconscious Douglas to believe in their healing powers. The advice Mr. Jonas offers to Douglas is more meaningful. He cautions him that "some people turn sad awfully young"; Mr. Jonas knows this because he is one of them. He seems to recognize this potential in Douglas, particularly because of the losses he has endured this summer. Mr. Jonas seems to understand Douglas's fever may be related to this sorrow—a catharsis perhaps. It is also significant that what "cures" Douglas is "air" for him to inhale so he can cool down by remembering something akin to winter, much as Grandfather's dandelion wine is an elixir they drink in winter to warm up by remembering summer.

Douglas himself views his illness as a distinct signal of the fact of mortality. After experiencing the losses of people close to him, he is faced with the possibility of his own death. By comparing himself to a failing machine—"the dim piston of his heart"—and thoughts falling like "seed pellets ... in an hourglass," he may well sense an impending finality in his illness: the machine no longer functional, the hourglass of time passing irretrievably.

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