Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 772
Dandelion Wine, like The Martian Chronicles, was constructed from previously published stories. Bradbury made a significantly greater effort to turn these stories into a unified book, however, by revising the stories with care and by writing connecting material. He also provided a greater impression of unity than in The Martian Chronicles by dropping the stories’ original titles and using no table of contents. Dandelion Wine is perhaps the most autobiographical of his novels. Elements of Bradbury can be seen in both Douglas Spaulding and his younger brother, Tom. Green Town, on Lake Michigan, is similar to Bradbury’s childhood home, Waukegan, Illinois, and the Spaulding family is like the Bradbury family.
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Readers have noticed the similarities between Dandelion Wine and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. Bradbury’s book differs in that the predominant point of view is preadolescent, so that the spiritual anguish and the problems of sexuality that are important in Anderson’s book are virtually absent in Bradbury’s. The childish exuberance in the feeling of being alive that is a central theme both exceeds the energy and falls short of the profundity one sees in George Willard, Anderson’s youthful protagonist. Bradbury presents a vivid picture of a boy’s life in a small midwestern town early in the twentieth century.
In the summer of 1928, Doug awakens to the momentous sense that being physically and spiritually alive is a great gift, and he begins to keep a written record of his life. This consists of two lists: One contains events that happen every summer like rituals—“Ceremonies”; the other contains new and unprecedented events—“Revelations.”
Once Bradbury has established Doug as a boy awakening to a sense of the wonder of life and wanting to understand it in his imagination, the structure of the book falls into a collection of sketches and stories, roughly chronological. Each story is well-connected to the overarching structure, often in several ways. The story may contain a ceremony, a revelation, or a combination of the two, and it may contribute as well to one of several thematic patterns that structure Doug’s awakening.
One of the main patterns is that of loss. Doug, his brother, and their friends interact with a number of very old people during this summer. One ancient man becomes their time machine, transporting them to the wonderful places he has been by telling stories. A Civil War veteran who cannot remember which side he was on, Colonel Freeleigh can nevertheless still picture and describe vividly the day he saw a giant herd of bison on the prairie or a battle in the war. Before the summer is over, he dies. So does Doug’s great-grandmother, who loved to repair the shingle roof each summer. His best friend moves away. A pair of elderly ladies permanently park their electric car after hitting a pedestrian. The trolley makes its last run and is replaced by a bus. Doug is almost present at two killings. The arcade’s ancient mechanical prophetess, the Tarot Witch, finally breaks down. Great and small, parts of Doug’s world slip away, and with the realization that he is richly alive comes the realization that he must die.
At the end of the summer, Doug becomes mysteriously ill. His brother, Tom, realizes that Doug wants to die because he has lost so much during the summer. This will-to-death also arises from a deeper source, Doug’s fear of facing and accepting his own mortality, an experience that Bradbury says he had when he was thirteen: “I discovered I could die, and that scared the hell out of me. And I thought, ’How do you escape that knowledge? Well, I’ll kill myself.’”
Doug is cured by a kind of magic, when his friend the local junk man gives him two bottles of fragrant air to breathe in. Like the bottles of dandelion wine that the boys and their grandfather produce throughout the summer, these bottles contain reminders of the richness of life to be enjoyed in those moments when it might be forgotten. Doug realizes this; he also comes to feel an obligation to live in order to pass on to others the wonderful, if temporary, gift of life that he has received. His first success at passing on this gift comes when he restores his grandmother’s magical power to produce delicious meals out of a chaotic kitchen after the too-orderly Aunt Rose ruins her cooking by organizing her. Dandelion Wine is a particularly rewarding novel for younger readers, but its fanciful humor and vivid portrait of small-town life can be enjoyed by older readers as well.