Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1570
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Lena Auffmann is married to Leo Auffmann and is the mother of their six children. She attempts to stop her husband from building the Happiness Machine and continues to be the voice of reason throughout the stories about the Machine. She tells Leo that he has made two mistakes with the machine: “You made quick things go slow and stay around. You brought things faraway to our backyard, where they don’t belong. . . .”
Leo Auffmann is the Green Town inventor. One evening when Douglas casually tells him to build a Happiness Machine, Auffmann undertakes what he believes will be his greatest invention. He works many long hours on the Machine, nearly destroying his health, his marriage, and his family in the process. After his son and his wife use the Machine to ill effect, he tries it himself, and is nearly killed in the ensuing fire. He realizes later that the real Happiness Machine is right in front of him, sitting on his own front porch: his family.
Mrs. Bentley is an elderly resident of Green Town, visited by children who refuse to believe that she was ever young. Under the constant pressure from the children, eventually Mrs. Bentley herself believes that she has never been young, that she has been seventy-two years old forever, that she does not have a first name, and that she has always lived in the same house.
Elmira Brown is a thirty-two year old woman married to the town postman. She is clumsy and often hurts herself; at the same time, she often blames others for her own problems. When she hears that her rival, Clara Goodwater, has received instruction manuals for becoming a witch, she believes that all of her tribulations have been caused by Clara casting spells. Although it appears that this is ridiculous, the ending of the story is ambiguous. How a reader ultimately receives Elmira largely depends on the reader’s reception of Clara as well.
Miss Fern is an elderly, unmarried woman who, along with Miss Roberta, owns the Green Machine.
Bill Forrester is one of the boarders at Grandfather and Grandma’s house who finds a special relationship with Helen Loomis.
Colonel Freeleigh is an elderly resident of Green Town who has lived all over the world. Charley Woodman discovers him and says that he is a Time Machine. Freeleigh shares his adventures with the boys in such a way that they feel transported to the time and place he describes.
Clara Goodwater is a young matron of Green Town and the President of the Honeysuckle Ladies’ Lodge. She has mail ordered books on witchcraft and magic, ostensibly for her cousin Raoul. She says that she is not a witch, in spite of Elmira Brown’s accusation. However, by the end of the story, it is not clear whether she is admitting to witchcraft, or humoring Elmira in a fit a guilt over the latter woman’s fall down the stairs.
Douglas and Tom’s Grandfather owns the boarding house where many of the characters of Dandelion Wine live. He is especially important to the story as the maker of dandelion wine. He pays the boys a dime a bag for the flowers, then he processes them through the press in his basement, making one bottle of the elixir for each day of the summer. Grandfather is also the character who decides when summer begins and ends by choosing the day on which to hang the porch swing, and then take it back in the house for the fall.
Douglas and Tom’s Grandma’s major role in Dandelion Wine is that of cook. Her meals are magical and unlike anything anyone has ever had. Each day she prepares large quantities of strange, delicious food for her family and for her boarders.
Great-grandma lives at the boarding house. Her role in Dandelion Wine is that of an elder wise woman who knows when it is time to leave this life. She is the character who explains to Douglas just what death is, and who offers him solace from his contemplations of the process.
John Huff is Douglas’s closest friend. When his father gets a job in Milwaukee, John tells Doug that he will be leaving Green Town. John’s importance in the book is that he serves to demonstrate to Doug the impermanence of life. As much as Doug wants things to stay the way they are, the characters continue to change and, in the case of John, leave Green Town.
Mr. Jonas is the Green Town junkman. There is a magical quality about the man; the children can hear him coming long before adults know he is anywhere near. In addition, he is also a healer. During the night hours, he wanders the roads, dispensing aspirin or delivering babies. When Doug nearly dies, it is Mr. Jonas’s bottle air that revives him.
The Lonely One
The Lonely One is the name given to a man who terrorizes the nights of Green Town. Women who find themselves in the Ravine after dark have a way of finding themselves murdered. Eventually, the town believes that the Lonely One has been killed by Lavinia Nebbs in her house. The boys, however, do not believe that the man was really the Lonely One; in their need to have a boogieman on which to focus their fears, they convince themselves that the Lonely One survives. More than a physical character, the Lonely One is also the specter of death. Like the Grim Reaper, he represents the end of time, the end of the world, and the end of life for Douglas.
Helen Loomis is a ninety-five-year-old resident of Green Town. A beautiful, wild woman in her youth, she passed up the chance for love. Now she develops a special relationship with Bill Forrester.
Lavinia Nebbs is considered to be the “prettiest maiden lady in town.” Lavinia demonstrates both her courage and her resourcefulness by killing the Lonely One with a pair of scissors.
Miss Roberta is Miss Fern’s sister, and co-owner of the Green Machine.
Douglas Spaulding is the twelve-year-old main character of Dandelion Wine. The book begins with his awakening into life and closes with his near death. Doug is a writer. In his notebook with his Ticonderoga pencil, he attempts to make sense of the events of the summer as well as of life and death. It is almost as if he tries to capture each of the days in the same way his grandfather bottles the summer in the dandelion wine. In many cultures, reaching the age of twelve is the traditional coming-of-age time. For Doug, the summer of 1928 is just that. He becomes aware of the rituals and practices that structure Green Town just as he attempts to understand what these rituals embody. For Doug, this is the summer when he understands what it means to be alive; but it is also the summer when he knows in the very core of his being that all creatures die, including himself. This knowledge nearly kills him, and it is only through the intervention of Mr. Jonas with his magical air that he is revived. Doug stands in for Bradbury in this novel; not only is the role autobiographical, it is also a comment on the role of the writer, the one who gets everything moving, and who ultimately decides when the story is concluded.
Mr. Spaulding, Doug and Tom’s father, is an important figure in the book, although his role is small. In the opening sequence of stories, it is Mr. Spaulding who takes the boys into the forest to gather wild berries. He seems to have a special connection to both the boys and nature, something that most adults in Dandelion Wine seem to have forgotten. Doug believes that his father has planned the outing specifically to initiate his son into the wonder of being alive.
Doug and Tom’s mother has only a minor role in the book. Her most important scene is when she and Tom go to look for Doug when he does not return home at the expected time. Her fear demonstrates to Tom that not even adults can control their environment.
Tom Spaulding is Doug’s ten-year-old brother. Not yet initiated into the mysteries of life, Tom is both confidant and enumerator for Doug. He keeps track of how many times they have done each of the rituals of summer. In addition, he listens as Doug tries to work through the puzzles of life. While he is not old enough to fully understand Doug’s struggles, his listening and companionship allow Doug to accomplish what he must. It is clear that Tom’s time will come as well and that in the future, he will have to face some of the same demons that have hounded Doug during the summer of 1928. For now, however, Tom is content and full in the moment.
Mr. Tridden is the trolley driver of Green Town. When the trolley is scheduled for decommissioning, he gives all of the residents one final, free ride on the wonderful machine.
Charlie Woodman is Doug’s friend.