Dandelion Wine | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Dandelion Wine | Themes

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Role of Memory

Memory plays an important role throughout the novel, from the youngest characters to the oldest. For young characters such as Douglas, each day is a day to be remembered because the years haven't "blurred together" yet, as they have for Grandfather. Rituals are important to Douglas's memory. Consequently, he begins to keep track of the summer's discoveries and revelations so he can remember them later.

For characters such as Grandfather, Mrs. Bentley, Colonel Freeleigh, and Helen Loomis, memory plays an important role in allowing them to access events in their earlier lives and, thus, their sense of identity. Colonel Freeleigh's memory is so powerful that Douglas and his friends refer to him as a time machine, for he is able to transport them back in time: provide the date, and the colonel will recount its events. One of Douglas's insights of the summer is that along with Colonel Freeleigh's death comes the death of his unique historical narrative, especially as Green Town's last remaining survivor of the Civil War. Mrs. Bentley, clinging so hard to her memories, realizes she doesn't inhabit the present and that no one can see or understand what she was before she became an old woman. Further, Helen Loomis's memories allow her to relive her past alongside Bill Forrester. Memory is also essential to keeping people alive after they are dead. As Great-Grandma points out to Douglas: no one with a family ever really dies.

In the chapters that serve as interludes between characters' stories and adventures, Douglas thinks and writes about events, as he too wants to preserve memories of this most important summer of 1928, the summer when life changed for him. To a 12-year-old, the yellow tablet in which he records events is his way of keeping alive the present, which will soon be past.

With Life Comes Death

The novel begins with Douglas's profound realization: he is alive. Although he understands the concept intellectually, he experiences a moment that makes him realize that life can be taken away. Only in that moment does he begin to comprehend his own mortality. Life and death are cycles much like the seasons, which also play a role in the novel. While Douglas and Tom are at the beginning of their lives, Ray Bradbury introduces much older characters to serve as a contrast to their childlike sense of wonder, magic, and immortality.

Each death deepens Douglas's understanding that unlike the safety and order his world presents, death is sometimes untimely, violent, and shocking. During the summer of 1928 Douglas witnesses deaths, both at the periphery of his life and at the center. Douglas encounters his own brush with mortality when he comes down with a high and undiagnosed fever, which may reflect how overwhelmed he feels by all he has learned. He survives but realizes he might not have. Characters such as Colonel Freeleigh and Helen Loomis also show how death is related to a life that has been lived. As Great-Grandma tells Douglas, a person with a family never truly dies because their memory lives on. For Douglas, with the revelation about what it means to be alive comes the knowledge of what it means to confront death. Ray Bradbury strongly suggests the two are inextricably linked.

Perils of Progress

Various characters in Dandelion Wine grapple with change and ponder over its merits and detriments. Sometimes change turns out to have both, although Ray Bradbury does offer cautionary tales about the unexpected pitfalls of progress, whether in the form of machinery or supposed organizational design.

Often for progress to occur, an old way must disappear. Grandfather's lecture to Bill Forrester provides a lesson in why an established way of doing something can be beneficial in ways that won't be realized until that way is gone for good. Although a lawn that doesn't need to be mowed seems like a good idea, Grandfather cautions that mowing a lawn allows for the kind of thinking and philosophizing essential to understanding and appreciating life. Another way Bradbury portrays the perils of progress is in the "machines" different characters build or encounter. Although Leo Auffmann's Happiness Machine seems like a good idea, he doesn't anticipate its causing sorrow to his family or anyone else. Although Miss Fern and Miss Roberta's Green Machine seems like a safe, efficient way to get around, they don't foresee its risk until they hit Mr. Quartermain. Nor does anyone but Douglas understand that the modern organizational methods Aunt Rose inflicts on Grandma and her kitchen destroy the magic of her creativity. When Grandfather sees it, however, he takes steps to remedy the situation. On the other hand, those who refuse to accept chronological change may be deluding themselves like Mrs. Bentley, who accepts reality when the children challenge her. Bradbury thus may be suggesting that although humans are not adept at anticipating—or may not want to anticipate—the downsides of progress, life is a delicate balance between knowing when to savor moments and when to let go.

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