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Free Online Study Guide for Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

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DANDELION WINE - LITERATURE ANALYSIS

 

OVERALL ANALYSIS


CHARACTER ANALYSIS


Douglas Spaulding


Douglas is the only character to go through any complex transformation in the novel, which deals with his awakened awareness of life and inevitable admission of mortality. His growth functions as a kind of summer school bildungsroman - that is, a novel of education - as he slowly gains wisdom over the course of the season. In keeping with a bildungsroman, he even keeps a tablet with notes, a metafictive subplot which foreshadows a future as a writer. While the positive aspects of this new awareness are tied intimately with the joys of summer, the fear of mortality in its various forms preoccupies his thoughts as the novel progresses. At one point he cannot even write down the truth of his own mortality in the tablet, despite all the evidence gathered.

This struggle against mortality hits a fever pitch in the last chapters of the novel. He becomes more active and heroic, wishing to preserve life and its pleasures instead of merely railing against the unfairness of mortality. This is seen with the last three major events of his summer: the adventure of the Tarot Witch, the fever which threatens to kill him, and his rescue of Grandmother Spaulding's kitchen. The last two events teach the lasting value of community and continuity - that is, that one can best fight mortality and support life by helping others, as Ned Jonas saved Douglas and Douglas in turn saves his grandma. Having learned this, Douglas' summer can close symbolically, as the cycle of rebirth and renewal is now a part of his world view.

There isn't nearly as much character development for others in the novel, due to two factors: many of the chapters are based on short stories, and the events of the novel are often filtered through the perspective of children, particularly Tom Spaulding. Tom does not change in the course of the novel - he has the brash confidence of a good childhood, unquestioning of the benefits bestowed on him and certain in whatever wisdoms he chooses to adopt, no matter how specious (i.e., old people were never children) or true (i.e., bedtime is always a happy ending).

On the other hand, many characters go through quick epiphanies because they are the focus of a specific chapter / short story. Leo Auffmann learns the value of happiness among his family; Miss Fern and Miss Roberta realize they're too old to drive the Green Machine. Clara Goodwater and Elmira Brown reach a rapprochement in their feud.


The only character who seems to go through a more extended development is Bill Forrester, who gains wisdom from Grandfather Spaulding in one chapter and more wisdom from Helen Loomis in another chapter. And yet these seem to be completely different sets of experiences, as Bill has no influence on the reader beyond these two chapters / stories.

Many of the oldest characters in the novel - Grandfather Spaulding, Grandmother Spaulding, Colonel Freeleigh, Helen Loomis - seem set in their ways, as if being founts of wisdom and experience keeps them from learning anything that's both new and useful. If anything, these characters are most threatened by changes in their routines: Colonel Freeleigh dies when his connection to the outside world is about to be cut off, Grandmother Spaulding loses her cooking abilities when Aunt Rose imposes a new efficiency.

As the novel's town elders, these characters are crucial to maintaining Bradbury's nostalgic view of his small town childhood, providing a philosophical bedrock from which other characters can benefit and learn.


PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS


The novel is essentially a series of related stories strung together by bridges or interludes, very much like The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man. But where The Martian Chronicles had an omniscient narrator describing the progress of Mars' colonization by Earth and The Illustrated Man had a running subplot regarding the narrator and the titular character, the bridges in Dandelion Wine are more idiosyncratic and connect intimately to the stories they bring together.

All the bridges feature the main characters Douglas and Tom Spaulding, who serve as commentators on the events they witness. They provide very specific points of view - Douglas has his concerns about mortality, while the younger Tom maintains a child's reckless optimism - which furthers the novel's themes by its contrasting opinions.

For this reason, Dandelion Wine feels more coherent and novelistic than the other two novels, though all three works are at heart short story collections tied by a common theme and/or setting. It is certainly possible to read specific chapters in Dandelion Wine as short stories in their own right - that was how many were originally composed - yet Bradbury goes out of his way to make the fabric of town life permeate the stories.

There are frequent casual references to characters in other sections, especially with Douglas and Tom, and the timeframe of a single summer helps to further create a sense of unity. Thus, even stories as different in tone as the Elmira Brown - Clara Goodwater feud and Lavinia Nebbs' encounter with "The Lonely One" fit snugly in the Green Town established by Bradbury.


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