Dandelion Wine | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Dandelion Wine | Chapters 39–40 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 39

The Spaulding family begins arriving at Grandma's house, and Douglas wants to ask his grandmother if this is where the world began. Her kitchen seems to be "the center of creation," where everything happens. As Douglas walks into Grandma's pantry, he wonders how he can ever thank Mr. Jonas for what he has done. Douglas decides he must pass on to someone else the gift he was given. In the pantry he observes names of exotic spices and fantasizes about their origins. He comes across a jar of relish—and delights in the word relish.

At the dinner table, Aunt Rose, who has arrived from out of town, asks Grandma what they are eating for dinner. Grandma inaccurately calls it the "Thursday Special." No one has ever asked Grandma what is in the meals she cooks for her family, and Grandma is evasive upon further questioning. Her culinary talent is her own: no recipes or measured ingredients, no two dishes ever the same. Aunt Rose offers to help Grandma organize her chaotic kitchen, but Grandma declines. Aunt Rose begins to persuade her with the promise that "modern kitchen methods" will make her food taste better and her family appreciate it more, so Grandma agrees. Although Douglas silently has willed her not to give in, Grandfather is open-minded.

Aunt Rose also takes Grandma to get new glasses and a new hairdo.

The next night the food Grandma serves tastes different, and no one eats much of it. After everyone leaves the table, Grandfather calls the boarders down and passes a hat to collect some money. He tells Douglas he has a great mission for him. The next afternoon, Douglas asks Aunt Rose to go for a walk around town. When they return, Aunt Rose's luggage is packed and waiting for her on the porch steps, along with a train ticket. Grandfather tells her that he has something to say to her: "Goodbye." When Grandma returns from shopping, Grandfather tells her Rose had to leave and would return in 12 years.

Preparing dinner that evening, Grandma realizes she has lost her cooking touch and begins to cry. Later that night, Douglas creeps into Grandma's pantry and begins putting things back the way they were before—completely disorganized. He also hides her new glasses. Grandma hears the sounds, comes to the pantry, and begins to cook in the middle of the night. The house wakes up and feasts. Douglas hopes he has passed on Mr. Jonas's gift of life returning.

Chapter 40

Quite suddenly, summer is over. Douglas knows it has happened when he and Tom walk by the drugstore and see pencils, tablets, and notebooks in the window. They return home to help Grandfather pick the last few dandelions. Douglas predicts to Tom that "next year's going to be even bigger ... brighter ... and me in the middle of it all." In the cellar, Douglas and Tom point out the bottles of dandelion wine for each monumental day of this summer. As they get older, Grandfather tells them, the days will blur together. The three begin taking down the porch swing. Douglas spends his last night in Grandma and Grandfather's cupola bedroom above town and issues his commands to the town one more time.

Analysis

The narrator shifts from the tension of Douglas's fever to Grandma's role in the lives of the Spauldings. Much like Great-Grandma, she plays a large part in binding the family together and nourishing them through her cooking. For Douglas, her home is "where the world began" and her kitchen is the "center of creation." This revelation demonstrates smallness of a childhood and the sense of safety and predictability a place like Grandma's kitchen can provide. Butt Douglas's most recent brush with mortality and his rescue by Mr. Jonas have widened his understanding of the world, and he finds himself looking for a way to pass along the gift of life to "keep the chain moving." His scope of the world and its threats is larger now than Grandma's kitchen.

The promise and skepticism of progress are once again addressed, as Aunt Rose undertakes an effort to "improve" both Grandma's kitchen and her eyesight. Yet, just as Grandfather told Bill Forrester earlier in the summer, a kind of indefinable magic defines some inefficient acts, such as mowing the lawn. Similarly, a kind of magic defines Grandma's disorganized kitchen and hazy eyesight. No one ever asks what Grandma puts in her food because not knowing is part of its magic. The moment Aunt Rose begins to ask questions, Douglas, in his budding skepticism, realizes what is at stake. For Douglas, Grandma's food is like Grandfather's lawnmower: "It was its own philosophy, it asked and answered its own questions." Even Grandma herself has never stopped to wonder where her cooking abilities come from—"her hands ... were [her] mystery, delight, and life." Once Aunt Rose begins to meddle, Grandma loses both her magic and her identity, implying the two are deeply intertwined. The gift Douglas is ultimately able to pass on to Grandma is to restore her "magic," or the essence of her life, by returning her kitchen to disarray and "losing" her glasses. By doing so, he restores his own sense of magic to the world and affirms the positive aspects of being alive and able to "relish" life.

It is interesting to note how Grandfather reacts—and acts—in Chapter 39. Given his previous skepticism about technological advances, readers may be surprised at his concession to Rose's plan, which even Douglas realizes will end badly. Why Grandfather doesn't refuse immediately poses questions. Does he think efficiency will not work for him but will for his wife? Or does he simply find the latest meal dissatisfying and is impatient for things to go back to the way they were? Interesting, too, is that he gives his own money to Bill Forrester as compensation but takes up a collection to buy Rose a train ticket. Indeed, Grandfather's attitudes in this chapter seem almost out of character, for he is curt, rude, and duplicitous—to a family member who may have been disruptive in her way but certainly not with harm in mind. Despite his no-nonsense ways, however, readers may find him less heroic than they did at the start of summer.

Also significant is that summer seems to end as abruptly as it started, particularly considering all that has transpired. One of Douglas's realizations is that his understanding of his place in the world has expanded, despite Tom's observation how nearly everyone sees themselves as standing at the center of it all.

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