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Free Online Study Guide for Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

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The novel begins with a series of new beginnings:

1.) It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer. (1)

We have here the start of a new day and season. For the inhabitants of Green Town, especially Douglas Spaulding, summer is a change in the world, a sudden burst of life. Notice the incantatory nature of the second sentence, building each detail within a clause, then ending with a trio of comforting words about "the breathing of the world" - a foreshadowing of Douglas' recovery from too much summer in Chapter Thirty-Six, when the power of life and its implications threaten to overwhelm him. Douglas is made aware of mortality and death almost immediately after becoming aware that he is alive. He faces the ravine in this passage:

2.) It was this then, the mystery of man seizing from the land and the land seizing back, year after year, that drew Douglas, knowing the towns never really won, they merely existed in calm peril, fully accoutered with lawn mower, bug spray and hedge shears, swimming steadily as long as civilization said to swim, but each house ready to sink in green tides, buried forever, when the last man ceased and his trowels and mowers shattered to cereal flakes of rust. (17)

The tension between man and nature is emphasized, a variation of life versus mortality as unfettered nature is itself a threat on human life. Note how simple lawn implements are described against natural forces, further playing on the absurdity of human aspirations (i.e., maintenance of a neat lawn) in light of the larger movements of the natural world.

3.) Leo Auffmann has a strong reaction when the men at the cigar store laugh at Douglas' idea for a Happiness Machine:

"How have we used machines so far, to make people cry? Yes! Every time man and machine look like they will get on all right --boom! Someone adds a cog, airplanes drop bombs on us, cars run us off cliffs. So it the boy wrong to ask? No! No..." (33)

It is interesting that Leo Auffmann is the one to express such an opinion: he is the town jeweler and an amateur inventor, so one assumes he loves technology. However, he also sees that technology without a proper sense of scale - without a feeling for what is humane and what should remain out of humanity's grasp - is as dangerous and unfettered as nature itself.

4.) Returning to the theme of humanity's place in the cosmos, we find this line during Tom and Mother Spaulding's search for Douglas:

The courthouse clock struck nine and it was getting late and it was really night on this small street in a small town in a big state on a large continent on a planet earth hurtling down the pit of space toward nowhere or somewhere and Tom feeling every mile of the long drop. (37)

Again, the tiny scope of humanity in the larger scheme of the world - and the universe - is played upon in this passage, which poetically zooms out from the street to outer space. The reference to the long drop could also stand for the ravine, which is the closest and most intimate reminder of nature at its rawest.

5.) However, this does not mean that human achievement should be looked down upon - just the more recent achievements in the book. As Grandfather Spaulding schools Bill Forrester on the value of lawnmowers over lawns that simply don't need mowing, he claims,

"If you had your way you'd pass a law to abolish all the little jobs, the little things. But then you'd leave yourself nothing to do between the big jobs and you'd have a devil of a time thinking up things to do so you wouldn't go crazy. Instead of that, why not let nature show you a few things? Cutting grass and pulling weeds can be a way of life, son." (50)

This explicitly states the theme of technology going too far, though in a different manner from Leo Auffmann's pronouncement. Rather than emphasizing the way too much technology leads to suffering and unhappiness, Grandpa speaks of how too much technology robs people of a chance to be contemplative. He adds quite memorably,

"Gardening is the handiest excuse for being a philosopher. Nobody guesses, nobody accuses, nobody knows, but there you are, Plato in the peonies, Socrates force-growing his own hemlock. A man toting a sack of blood manure across his lawn is kin to Atlas letting the world spin easy on his shoulder." (51)

There is a playfulness to the images presented here, from the repetition of the word "nobody" to the alliteration of "Plato in the peonies" to the absurd image of Socrates growing the poison which kills him. Finally, there is the image of a man with a sack of manure being compared to that of Atlas, equating animal waste with the responsibility of the world. Nevertheless, this all makes its point effectively precisely because there is a sense of recklessness in Grandpa's words, the kind of free thinking that gardening supposedly empowers.

6.) Returning to Leo Auffmann, we discover he does not see the full consequences of his unique perspective on technology, as his attempt to build a Happiness Machine proves. After his failed experiment, he finds the true Happiness Machine in his home:

And there, in small warm pools of lamplight, you could see what Leo Auffmann wanted you to see. There sat Saul and Marshall, playing chess at the coffee table. In the dining room Rebecca was laying out the silver. Naomi was cutting paper-doll dresses. Ruth was painting water colors. Joseph was running his electric train. Through the kitchen door, Lena Auffmann was sliding a pot roast from the steaming oven. Every hand, every head, every mouth made a big or little motion. You could hear their faraway voices under glass. You could hear someone singing in a high sweet voice. You could smell bread baking, too, and you knew it was real bread that would soon be covered with real butter. Everything was there and it was working.

[...] Inside, Grandfather, Douglas, and Tom saw him tinkering, making a minor adjustment here, eliminate friction there, busy among all those warm, wonderful, infinitely delicate, forever mysterious, and ever-moving parts. (63)

Attention is paid to how every cog in the family "machine" functions, then of Leo playing the part of engineer, making sure the cogs all work well together. In this way, Leo's greatest invention is made clear: the fruit of his loins, his family. Further, the emphasis on real bread and real butter is a refutation of the false happiness of Leo's machine. Authenticity, not the fake happiness of his invention, is what should be valued.

7.) While Tom and Doug are the most vocal proponents of the rather odd notion that old people were never children, they're not the only ones to express this idea. As Helen Bentley deals with her remembrance of things past, she is greeted by thoughts of her dead husband, who she imagines speaking to her:

"It won't work," Mr. Bentley continued, sipping his tea. "No matter how hard you try to be what you once were, you can only be what you are here and now. Time hypnotizes. When you're nine, you think you've always been nine years old and will always be. When you're thirty, it seems you've always been balanced there on that bright rim of middle life. And then when you turn seventy, you are always and forever seventy. You're in the present, you're trapped in a young now or an old now, but there is no other now to be seen." (75)

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Free Online Study Guide for Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

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Mescallado, Ray. "TheBestNotes on Dandelion Wine". . 09 May 2017