Ray Bradbury

Dandelion Wine

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Dandelion Wine Summary

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Dandelion Wine (1957) is a coming-of-age novel by Ray Bradbury, best known as one of the fathers of speculative fiction. The story follows Douglas Spaulding, a twelve-year-old boy who lives in Waukegan, Illinois, known colloquially as “Green Town.” The title is a reference to a wine made out of dandelion petals, which Spaulding’s grandfather brews while relating it to a metaphor for the process of packing the essence of summer into a bottle. Highly nostalgic in style, the story is loosely based on Bradbury’s own childhood. It is well known for developing a sense of youthful wonder about the simple joys of growing up in small-town American life.

At the beginning of the summer of 1928, Douglas has a sudden epiphany about the preciousness and beauty of life, perceiving the world as if it were brand new. Around this time, he brews dandelion wine with his grandfather and Tom, his ten-year-old brother. The act of making the wine becomes a ritual, and they brew a new batch at the end of each summer month. Before he can truly relish summer, Douglas believes that he needs the new Royal Crown Cream-Sponge Para Litefoot Tennis Shoes. He states his case to Mr. Sanderson, a shoe salesman, compelling the man to reminisce on his own childhood. Mr. Sanderson decides to give him the shoes if he runs a list of errands. Elated, Douglas sets off with his friends John Huff and Charlie Woodman to complete the list.

Douglas decides to record his summer by jotting down the events that take place as well as his reflections. His first insight is that children and adults are two separate species. His friend Tom joins him in keeping a record. That summer, the town jeweler Leo Auffmann declares that he is inventing a Happiness Machine. He fails spectacularly, but learns in the process that family is the one true “Happiness Machine.” Douglas, however, is sad that Leo failed. Douglas and Tom team up with some of Douglas’s family to clean the house, an experience from which Tom concludes that adults were never children. Douglas believes him, but asserts that old people have their own value. Charlie brings Douglas and John to Colonel Freeleigh, whom he calls a Time Machine because he tells compelling stories about the past.

Douglas is saddened when an electric car called the Green Machine is put into storage. He loved riding in it with his friends. Another well-loved mode of transport, the town trolley, is taken out of commission. Douglas is devastated when John Huff tells him that he is moving up north to Milwaukee. He copes by getting angrier than he wants to. Colonel Freeleigh passes away, causing Douglas to feel further loss, since he believes the magic of the Time Machine to have left the world.

When August arrives, Douglas is sad about the looming departure of summer. His grandfather cheers him up with more dandelion wine. That month, Douglas watches a romance unfold between Bill Forrester and ninety-five-year-old Helen Loomis. Though they are far apart in age, they talk every day for weeks on end and seem to be a perfect pair. Miss Loomis dies of natural causes, compelling Douglas to wonder why all endings are sad. Tom argues that the romance was happy in itself, but fails to convince Douglas. Meanwhile, a murderer called the Lonely One becomes a known threat in the town. The death of Elizabeth Ramsell, a young woman whose body is found by two other women is attributed to him. That same night, Miss Nebbs kills the Lonely One after he breaks into her house. Tom tells Charlie that the man could not be the real Lonely One because he looks much different than the man they imagined. Douglas, who happened upon the body of Elizabeth, is struck by how unknowingly close he was to being murdered. His great-grandmother dies after telling him that death is not intrinsically bad, causing Douglas to realize that he, too, will die. He gets his brother to help attempt a ridiculous scheme to free a wax figure called the Tarot Witch from an arcade game, convinced that she is imprisoned in the figure. He believes that once released, she will teach him how to live forever.

Douglas slowly realizes that mortality belongs to all people. His fear of death makes him sick with a fever. Nothing seems to make him feel better until Mr. Jonas arrives with two bottles of “pure winter air,” claiming that they are the remedy for the heat of summer. The air magically heals his fever, teaching him that change is natural and good in life, since it renews the self. Douglas finally accepts that death is a part of life.

The story closes as Douglas gives his grandmother a bottle of winter air as a remedy for her loss of cooking talents. His hope for the future having been renewed, he looks forward to the beginning of school and the endless cycles of renewal that drive life. Dandelion Wine consists mainly in these nostalgic renderings of themes of renewal and hope, showing that they counteract sadness and despair and unite both the young and old.