Dandelion Wine | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Dandelion Wine | Context

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Coming of Age and the Autobiographical Fantasy

Dandelion Wine defies the strict genre of autobiography, despite Ray Bradbury's statement that the novel is "a gathering of dandelions from all those years" of his childhood. The fictional Green Town is based on Waukegan, Illinois, the town in which he grew up. In his introduction Bradbury highlights his close relationship with his grandparents, and their influence features heavily on the main character Douglas Spaulding. Yet, by changing the name of the town, Bradbury signals that the novel can't be categorized as autobiography, for he has changed details, invented new characters, and created new stories for the purposes of entertainment and suspense.

As much as the novel contains bits and pieces of Bradbury's own childhood, it also becomes a coming-of-age story centered on Douglas over the course of one summer in 1928. Douglas is 12, straddling childhood and adolescence. Readers witness the seismic shifts that occur in his understanding of the world and of his own mortality. The novel begins by illustrating the childhood magic into which Douglas is still tapped but that he loses bit by bit as he is confronted with various losses.

Another term for the coming-of-age story is the German bildungsroman, which focuses more precisely on the psychological and moral growth of a character growing out of childhood. Often, the protagonist searches for the answer to many of life's challenges, such as the meaning of existence, love, fear, and death. One of Douglas's earliest revelations is that he is alive—a fact he understood abstractly before but only comes to know intimately after he senses a threat to his mortality.

Byzantium

In the Introduction to Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury includes a poem that alludes to Byzantium and most likely to the poem "Sailing to Byzantium" by Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865–1939). Yeats's verses recall a lost era, deeming it Byzantium, "no country for old men." There, "all summer long" young people go about their lives, indulging their senses and paying little attention to the old people, the "monuments of unageing intellect." Bradbury's poem takes a different turn: "Byzantium, I come not from, / But from another time and place / Whose race was simple, tried and true."

The historical Byzantium was an ancient Greek colony in what is present-day Istanbul. Its origins are shrouded in myth, making the factual accounts of life in its empire appear more like legends. According to the Roman historian Tacitus (56–c. 120 CE), it was built on the order of the god of Delphi and came to be considered the eastern half of the Roman Empire. It is likely, however, that Byzantium was established in 668 BCE by an explorer named Byzas (c. 7th century BCE). A trading city, it was conquered by the Persians, besieged and rebuilt by the Romans, and eventually invaded and captured by Ottoman Turks in 1453.

Bradbury likely included the allusion to show readers how the fictional, yet autobiographical, landscape of Green Town, seen from the eyes of an imaginative and contented 12-year-old, is his own Byzantium. Its memories, too, are lost to time and demonstrate a mythical quality that depicts it as a place from another era.

The Year 1928

Ray Bradbury places significance on the time in which the novel is set: the summer of 1928. It is a time before the stock market crash and the Great Depression (1929–39) and a time when people, such as Colonel Freeleigh, who remember the Civil War (1861–65) were still alive to tell its stories. Urbanization had been continuing for decades; by the late 1920s, the majority of the American people lived in cities rather than rural areas. By 1928 many midwestern homes had electricity not only for light but also to run major appliances such as washing machines, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, and fans. However, these appliances did not yet popularly reside in all homes, based on the ritual of rug beating in the story and the intense heat that forces Douglas to sleep outdoors.

The year 1928 saw a number of firsts in technological progress: the first transatlantic television signal and the first issuance of a U.S. television license. The first regular schedule of television programming began shortly thereafter. The 1920s were also a decade that saw the era of Prohibition and the Roaring 20s. Lasting from 1920–33, Prohibition was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production and sale of alcoholic beverages. Regardless, Prohibition does not keep the characters in Dandelion Wine from making their own wine from dandelions in their yard, bottling it, and keeping it in their basement for medicinal use during the winter.

The Roaring 20s refers to a time of economic prosperity and a shifting culture in the United States before the stock market crash of 1929. The 1920s saw unprecedented technological advances in cars, telephones, movies, radio, and electrical appliances, and aviation was on its way to becoming accessible to all. Women were granted the right to vote, an advancement that had a large cultural and social impact.

In many ways, Dandelion Wine is a novel that explores nostalgia for a time that was beginning to disappear, a time before the swift advances of the 1920s. Only about 35 miles from Chicago, Waukegan—the fictional midwestern Green Town—surely underwent changes: the trolley is retired for a more modern and faster bus, for example, but no change is met with optimism, not even new glasses for Grandma.

Not unusually, changes were happening first in cities, where the pace of life is generally faster. Smaller midwestern towns such as Green Town were slower to change, although not isolated from it, as the purchase of the Green Machine indicates. In the 1920s traveling salesmen worked vast territories of small cities and towns in the Midwest with products for sale for customers outside urban areas. Some characters in the novel grapple with the lure of progress that will make the future easier, only to find drawbacks and dangers their creators and users do not anticipate. Indeed, some of the machines in the novel serve as cautionary tales against fast, unchecked progress.

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