Dandelion Wine | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Dandelion Wine | Plot Summary

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Summary

Early Summer

Douglas Spaulding is a 12-year-old boy who lives in Green Town, Illinois. As the summer of 1928 begins, he is excited. He is allowed to spend one night a week with his grandparents next door, where he imagines conducting the town's activities—and fate—from his bedroom window.

One of Douglas's first revelations of the summer is that he is alive, a sensation that comes upon him while picking grapes with Father and younger brother Tom. The sensation is that of a threat to his life, something he will come to understand is his own mortality. Douglas's first ritual of summer is to pick the dandelions for the dandelion wine Grandfather makes, which they use in the winter as medicine or to conjure up a memory of summer.

A place that fascinates Douglas is Green Town's ravine, which is wild and dark, in contrast to the orderly town built around it. One of Douglas's favorite summertime rituals is to run through the ravine with his friends, wearing a new pair of sneakers that his father sees as an unnecessary purchase. But to Douglas, a new pair of sneakers in summer is akin to magic. The sneakers are so important to Douglas that he convinces the shoe store owner, Mr. Sanderson, to allow him to run errands in exchange for some of the money toward buying the sneakers.

Douglas and Tom begin to keep a list of the things they always do during the summer, as well as a list of things they will do for the first time ever—their rituals and revelations. The ritual of setting up the porch swing is an important one. It signals that everyone will begin gathering on porches and talking late into the night, a summer tradition Douglas finds reassuring.

Midsummer

The town jeweler—and inventor—Leo Auffmann decides to build a happiness machine. Such an undertaking makes his wife, Lena, concerned. Although she tells him they have everything they need to be happy in the here and now, her words don't deter him. He builds the machine and attracts the curiosity of the neighborhood, but after his son and wife have upsetting experiences in it, it catches fire. Leo realizes Lena is right: his family in the present moment is all he needs to be happy.

One evening Douglas runs off with his friends into the ravine and stays out after dark. Worried, Mother takes Tom to look for him, and Tom is stuck by the realization his mother—and therefore adults—can be frightened of things. He worries about death for the first time, but they are relieved when they hear Douglas's voice. The subject of the Lonely One, a suspected local killer, comes up for the first time, and the town takes on an aura of menace.

Grandfather looks forward to one of his own favorite summer rituals—the sound of the lawn mower. He is upset to discover one of the family's boarders, reporter Bill Forrester, has purchased a new kind of lawn seed that will grow only short grass and eliminate the need for mowing. Thinking that the innovation will please Grandfather, Bill is surprised when Grandfather tells him that when he's older, he'll realize the ability to savor things, such as mowing the lawn, will become more important and that saving time isn't always the best thing.

Another important family ritual is beating the rugs outdoors in the summer. This activity allows Tom to feel connected to the family's history and future.

Tom and his friends Alice and Jane visit the elderly Mrs. Bentley. They cannot believe that she used to be a young girl. At first Mrs. Bentley is offended by their behavior, but she realizes very soon that she has used many of the objects she keeps in her home to feel connected to her past rather than live in the present. She decides to give many of the items to the children and begins to accept her age.

Douglas, Charlie Woodman, and John Huff encounter another elderly person, Colonel Freeleigh, whom they dub the Time Machine. This attribution is a result of Colonel Freeleigh's ability to transport them, through his stories, to particular times in history, such as the Civil War, in which he fought.

Another machine makes an appearance in midsummer—Miss Fern and Miss Roberta's Green Machine. The Green Machine is a kind of electric buggy that helps them get around town, but the women don't anticipate its dangers until they hit an unsuspecting man while they drive it on the sidewalk. At the same time, the town's trolley is being retired to make way for a bus system. The trolley operator, Mr. Tridden, takes the children on one last ride, packing a picnic for a special off-route destination. Charlie finds the idea of buses upsetting because it means the children can never be late for school again.

Soon after, Douglas's close friend, John Huff, reveals that he is moving—leaving that very day. This is the closest personal loss Douglas has dealt with, and it results in his feeling angry with John and angry at that things inevitably change. In fact, Douglas reveals to Tom that he's beginning to understand that some things are beyond his control. Thus, he worries about "the way God runs the world" because Douglas, as a mere mortal, can't anticipate them.

Elmira Brown is a clumsy, disagreeable woman who is constantly injuring herself and breaking things. She blames her mishaps on Clara Goodwater, whom she accuses of being a witch and putting curses on her. Clara is also the president of the Honeysuckle Ladies Lodge, a position Elmira covets. Elmira creates her own magical concoction to protect herself against Clara, but it causes her to grow ill, get dizzy and nauseated, and fall down the stairs at the election. Clara seems to realize Elmira needs to believe that the "curse" can be reversed, and she promises to use her "magic" only for good rather than evil. She then promises to cede her election victory to Elmira so that she can be president of the lodge.

Colonel Freeleigh increasingly places phone calls to places around the world to which he has been so that he can hear their sounds and be transported. His nurse is upset over his actions because they excite him too much and are bad for his health. He tells her he'd rather suffer and feel alive, but she threatens to have the phone taken out. He makes one last phone call to Mexico City and dies while listening. His death shakes Douglas, who realizes that many of Colonel Freeleigh's memories and stories have died with him.

Late Summer

When Grandfather and Douglas begin making the wine from the second harvest of dandelions, Douglas is surprised that none of the earlier bottles show any physical indication of the important memories that took place on each day.

One day, Bill Forrester takes Douglas out for ice cream, where they encounter 95-year-old Helen Loomis. Bill reveals to Helen that he was in love with her once—a surprising revelation given that he is more than 60 years younger than she is. He begins to visit her in the afternoons, where she transports him to her earlier memories through her stories. Bill explains to Helen that he fell in love with her when the newspaper he works for printed a picture of her when she was much younger, not realizing how old she was. Aware that she is approaching her death, Helen writes Bill a letter to be delivered after she dies. She tells him that she believes in reincarnation and suggests he not plan to live too long so they can both be reborn at the same time in their next lives and be together.

Green Town's serial killer, the Lonely One, appears in town again after three local women have been murdered. Walking through the ravine to go to a move, Lavinia Nebbs and her friend Francine encounter the body of Elizabeth Ramsell. Lavinia convinces her friends to continue with the evening as normal, even after the drugstore owner tells them a strange man was asking earlier where Lavinia lives. Lavinia walks her friends home after the movie, and then walks through the ravine alone, growing increasingly terrified. Once she gets to her house, she locks her door but hears a man clear his throat in another room. The next day, Douglas tells Tom and Charlie Woodman what he saw at the ravine and that a man was carried out of Lavinia's house on a stretcher. It was the Lonely One. Charlie and Tom refuse to believe it was the Lonely One and don't take the situation seriously. Douglas, however, seems deeply upset by what he witnessed.

Douglas encounters another, closer confrontation with mortality when his great-grandmother dies. She was part of the fabric of his family, and although she reassures him that "no one ever died that had a family," he is deeply saddened and shocked by her death. He begins to realize that he can't depend on things and people and that to be alive means he, too, will die someday.

In his fascination with magic, Douglas becomes increasingly obsessed with the Tarot Witch machine at the arcade. He believes her fortunes have something to tell him about how to avoid death. In fact, he also believes that the Tarot Witch has sent them a secret message asking for help, and he goes to the library to do some research. That night he and Tom return to the arcade only to see Mr. Black, the arcade owner, drunkenly waving a knife at the Tarot Witch machine before destroying it. When the boys' presence startles him and he faints, they "kidnap" the broken machine. But Mr. Black finds them and throws the Tarot Witch into the ravine. Tom finds their father, who helps them reassemble the machine.

Mr. Jonas, Green Town's "junk man" arrives, offering the goods he has taken in donations from one side of town to the other side. Not long after his appearance, along with the scramble for items and replenishing the wagon with new donations, the hottest day of the summer occurs. With it, Douglas comes down with a high fever. Tom sees Mr. Jonas approaching and asks him to find something to help Douglas. Mr. Jonas returns in the middle of the night with two green bottles, which he tells Douglas, asleep outdoors in cooler air, to "drink with his nose." The bottles contain cool, fragrant air, mostly from distant places. When Tom checks on Douglas again, he finds him doing better. The next day, rain falls and the temperature finally cools down.

Douglas is looking for a way to repay Mr. Jonas's gift, and the opportunity arrives when a well-intentioned aunt—in the guise of order and efficiency—throws Grandma's kitchen and cooking into upheaval. Grandma can't see well and cooks according to her senses and disorganized kitchen. Aunt Rose undertakes an effort to organize the kitchen and pantry and get new glasses for Grandma. Yet, the "improvements" begin to ruin Grandma's instinct for cooking and thus upset the balance of her family and the 10 boarders who depend on her delicious meals. One night Douglas puts her kitchen back into disarray and hides her new glasses, and Grandfather sends Aunt Rose back home. Grandma's cooking returns to normal.

Finally, Douglas realizes one day that summer is over when he sees all the pencils and tablets for school in the drugstore window. He helps Grandfather pick the last few dandelions and take down the porch swing.

Dandelion Wine Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action

Introduction

1 Douglas realizes he is alive.

Rising Action

2 Grandfather, Douglas, and Tom start making dandelion wine.

3 Douglas works for new sneakers.

4 Leo Auffmann builds the Happiness Machine.

5 John Huff moves away.

6 Colonel Freeleigh dies.

7 Helen Loomis and Bill Forrester form a bond.

8 The Lonely One tries to kill Lavinia Nebbs.

9 Great-Grandma dies.

10 Tom and Douglas try to rescue the Tarot Witch.

Climax

11 Douglas is stricken with a high fever but recovers.

Falling Action

12 Douglas helps Grandma find her old magic.

13 School supplies appear in the drugstore window.

14 Grandfather and the boys take down the porch swing.

Resolution

15 Summer ends as Douglas commands from the cupola window.

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