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Free Online Study Guide for Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

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DANDELION WINE: LITERARY ANALYSIS

 

THEMES


Major Themes

The defining theme of Dandelion Wine is the struggle between life and death, between the joys of human experience and the inevitable surrender to mortality. How can one enjoy life, knowing it will end? What good are simple human pleasures if there is so much suffering and death in the world? These issues are universal, and risk becoming grandiose with little productive thought - but Bradbury often scales back the cosmic scope of this issue with related minor themes.

Another major theme, one which ties into issues of mortality, is the value of memory. It manifests in the nostalgia of a simpler time and place --that is, Green Town, Illinois in summer 1928. Bradbury assumes that a "simple" life of straightforward pleasures is the way one can feel most alive; it is, in some ways, an updated version of philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau's notion of "noble savages", based on the idea that people are basically good and that an increasingly complex life (achieved in the furtherance of an abstract belief in "civilization") only makes people more miserable and less appreciative of the simplest (and most powerful) pleasures available to them. Moving from forest to trees, there are the ways memories are treasured and maintained by characters: the metafictive elements of dandelion wine and the tablet of events kept by Douglas and Tom Spaulding; there are also the memories of the so-called Time Machine, Colonel Freeleigh, and the travelogues of Helen Loomis. These approaches emphasize communal continuity - whether the town or the family unit - which is one way to fight against mortality, to pass along one's knowledge and experiences to future generations.

Minor Themes

Related to the major themes are various minor themes that extrapolate on a specific view of what mortality is. There is the education of youth, the discoveries and growing self-awareness that comes with growing up: in this, we find the sub-themes of rituals and discoveries, and the knowledge each bestows on a person. There is the individual experience of time: within this, we find the clear distinction drawn between Youth and Old Age, as well as the notion of a practical immortality through community. There is also the limits of technology and its role in human experience: this is often posed as the inevitable abuse of the gifts of scientific progress, that too much technology tends to take away from the pleasures of being human. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is the danger of nature, represented in the townscape by the ravine that splits Green Town in half: as with too much technology, untamed nature is antithetical to modern man, threatening in its wildness and danger.

MOOD


The mood of the book is meant to capture Bradbury's sense of childhood: often solemn, intent on taking the business of growing up quite seriously. It is also filled with wonder and a strong sense of hyperbole, as the experiences of childhood are thought to be more vivid, more powerful, for its newness and unexpectedness at such a young age. This combination of moods is clearest when the Spaulding brothers discuss the list they're compiling about the summer.

Beyond that, there is some variation in the mood to reflect certain chapters with slightly different subjects: horror in the chapter devoted to the Lonely One, and comedy in the chapter devoted to the conflict between Elmira Brown and Clara Goodwater. It's worth noting that the Spaulding brothers play only a minor role in these chapters.

Ray Bradbury - BIOGRAPHY


As one of the best-known authors of science fiction, Ray Bradbury played a significant role in not only making the genre more widely popular, but also to legitimize the form critically among mainstream critics. His unique blend of poetic nostalgia, imaginative flights of fancy, and allegorical social commentary

Ray Douglas Bradbury was born on August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois. His family moved several times, returning to Waukegan each time, before settling down in Los Angeles in 1934. In his teen years he befriended another future legend of science fiction, Forest Ackerman, who published some of Bradbury's earliest stories in fanzines. Even in high school, Bradbury saw how writing the kind of fiction he enjoyed --speculative stories of fantasy and science - earned him less recognition than "legitimate" fiction. However, he stuck with his passion and through stories published in homemade fanzines and magazines such as Weird Tales, Bradbury earned a reputation among the still-nascent circles of science fiction and fantasy fandom.


His first book, 1950's The Martian Chronicles, won him critical acclaim both within science fiction circles and in the broader mainstream readership. The stories in Bradbury's first collection reflected concerns that would develop in later works: the idea of a thematically-tied short story collection would be revisited in The Illustrated Man, and the theme of censorship would blossom into his most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451.

Dandelion Wine began as a series of short stories - many of them published in magazines - conjuring Bradbury's childhood memories in Waukegan, now renamed Green Town. Spaulding is the maiden name of his paternal great-grandmother, Mary. His paternal great-grandfather, Samuel Bradbury, was mayor of Waukegan and the house where Samuel and Mary lived was the basis for the house of Douglas Spaulding's grandparents. There was a real-life ravine in Waukegan, though the town itself was bigger than the sleepy little hamlet described in Bradbury's novel. There was even a real-life Lonely One: that was the nickname given to a cat burglar (not a serial killer) who terrorized Waukegan when Bradbury was a child. Dandelion Wine was published in September 1957; the following month, Bradbury's father Leonard Spaulding Bradbury died, though not without reading the novel.

Bradbury's imaginative takes on human nature appeared not only in print, but also television, movies, comic books, and radio programs. Bradbury enjoyed working in different forms as well as in different genres: science fiction is what he's always been best known for, with stories such as "A Sound of Thunder" becoming instant classics of the genre, but he also wrote memorable horror stories such as the novel Something Wicked This Way Comes.

He not only watched as adaptations of his fiction took place, he often took part in writing those adaptations. Among the awards he's earned in his long and distinguished career are the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1988, and the National Medal of Arts in 2004. He also has an asteroid named after him, the moon has a Dandelion Crater named after Dandelion Wine, and he has earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame - all testaments to the range and breadth of his career.

LITERARY/HISTORICAL INFORMATION


The novel was inspired by Bradbury's childhood in Waukegan, albeit one idealized from reality. Originally, the manuscript was twice as long, but at the behest of his editor Walter Bradbury (no relation), Ray Bradbury cut half the stories for a projected sequel, Farewell Summer. Farewell Summer has yet to be published; but along with the published novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, the three works form the Green Town trilogy. Bradbury originally included the title of the short stories in his manuscript, but deleted them to make the work more cohesive. The hero of this novel, Douglas Spaulding, has appeared in other stories by Bradbury, further cementing his role as the author's alter ego.


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