Dandelion Wine

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Out looking for wild grapes with his father and brother, Douglas wakens to the fact that he is alive. He confides his realizations to his brother, Tom, and records them in a yellow nickel pad as they accumulate through the summer.

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Life’s bounty presents new tennis shoes, stories of buffalo stampedes by old Colonel Freeleigh, and the affection of and for John Huff, a neighborhood buddy. Family rituals provide another part of this goodness, especially the monthly gathering of dandelions for wine making. Grandfather Spalding supervises, but Douglas tends with eye, ear, and hand the mystery of preserving summer in the cellar. The bottles wait there to assuage winter’s chills and colds.

Douglas wishes wonderful summer would stay put. It will not. Beloved John Huff moves away. Tennis shoes wear. The storyteller dies. Another vision assails the boy: Douglas Spalding will die some day.

Less a plotted story than a flaring of richly described episodes, the book depicts the birth of the artist as a Midwestern boy. As well, it portrays the isolation of selfhood. However full Douglas’ experiences are, rupture jars them and creates anxiety. Life, initially so much a treasure, is open to doubt. Douglas utters “I hate you” to the disappeared John Huff, though he really addresses the fickleness of life. With determination, however, Douglas keeps his faith. The notebook fills up. Dandelion wine is gathered each month, an emblem of this faith.

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The book works for the reader as a bottle of dandelion wine. The rich vintage of Bradbury’s remembered Waukegan boyhood will vivify any reader’s sense of his or her childhood. Anyone desiring to hear loud realistic acclaim for the cosmos that people mysteriously appear in and disappear from should not miss this book.

Historical Context

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The Great Depression

Bradbury was born in 1920, and so was just nine years old when the Great Depression began, throwing his father out of work and forcing the family’s move from Waukegan, Illinois. This event had a lasting effect on the writer. In his choice of his novel’s setting, Green Town during the summer of 1928, Bradbury attempted to recreate a time and place that no longer existed, a place where the economic, political, and technological upheavals of the twentieth century had not yet touched. For Bradbury, the pre-Depression Midwestern town represented a kind of Eden, a place isolated from the rest of the world where people sat out on their porches at night and were truly neighborly. The social chaos brought on by the downward economic spiral of the Depression followed closely by the horrors of World War II made the final years before the Depression look particularly innocent and golden by comparison. This contrast, between the world of 1928, and the world of 1957, the year of the book’s publication is stark, and renders Douglas’s experiences all the more bittersweet.

The Cold War and the Nuclear Arms Race

During the years that Bradbury worked on Dandelion Wine, the United States was engaged in both World War II and the Korean War. Even when these wars ended, the struggle for world power between the Soviet Union and the United States continued in the cold war. At stake was the survival of the entire world, for as the cold war continued, both the United States and the Soviet Union (along with a number of other nations of the world including France, England, India, and China) began stockpiling stores of nuclear weapons to be used as a last resort against the other nations in the event of full-scale war. Such use, however, would mean the end of the world, as the nuclear arsenal grew to such a size that scientists estimated that nations could blow up the planet seven times over.

Bradbury clearly hoped to return to a gentler, more naive time in his creation of Green Town. His thinly veiled distrust of technology had its roots in the 1950s, as he saw his nation rushing frantically toward some gigantic conflagration. The launching of the unmanned satellite Sputnik in 1957 by the Soviet Union, the first human object in orbit around the earth, only served to confirm both the promise and the dangers of technology for Bradbury, ground he had explored earlier in his 1950 collection, The Martian Chronicles. Although Dandelion Wine might seem to have little to do with the world at large, the novel, through its idealization of small town America in the years before the Depression, marked a rejection of the political and technological dangers of mid-twentieth century America.

 

Literary Style

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Setting

In Dandelion Wine, the setting of Green Town becomes almost another character. On the one hand, Bradbury has been very clear that he modeled Green Town after his own childhood home of Waukegan, Illinois. According to Bradbury, there were tree-lined streets, people sitting on porches on a summer evening, and even a frightening dark ravine. However, Green Town becomes mythic in its significance to Dandelion Wine. The town is isolated, surrounded by a deep forest, with no connection to the outside world. Symbolically, the town is a kind of Garden of Eden for Doug, the place where one day he realizes he is alive. Likewise, the Lonely One, skulking about in the ravine is akin to the serpent in Eden, the serpent who brings death to humankind. Doug’s growing awareness of life and death is paralleled by Green Town’s gradual change from an isolated city where no one new arrives and no one ever leaves to a town where people die, and people go away. For Doug, this new knowledge of his city is dangerous; it is after witnessing the murdered corpse in the ravine that he falls into the coma that nearly wins him for death. Thus, while Green Town is simply the setting, it provides the mythological grounding for the novel.

Archetypes

The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung theorized that there are particular, images, character types, settings and stories that operate across cultures, and that these archetypes are embedded deep within the human subconscious. Bradbury, who writes frequently in books such as Zen and the Art of Writing about tapping his own subconscious mind for material, makes use of the idea of the archetype in Dandelion Wine. Douglas is the archetypal young hero and his story is the archetypal quest story. In this type of story, the hero is nearly always a young person about to enter adulthood who receives a calling that starts him or her on his journey. For Douglas, the quest is metaphoric as he moves through a series of initiatory rites designed to bring him from childhood into adulthood. He first is aware of this on the day his father takes him to pick grapes. He realizes that his father and his grandfather “live on riddles;” that is, they have knowledge that is outside of his understanding as a child. However, when he is in the forest, he receives the archetypal call when he realizes that this is the day when everything will change. He is aware of some presence outside himself ready to pounce. When this “something” finally makes itself known, “the world, like a great iris of an even more gigantic eye which has also just opened and stretched out to encompass everything, stared back at him.” From this moment on, with the utter certainty that he is alive, Douglas begins his journey to adulthood, encountering loss through both death and change, and his own near death.

Other archetypes that Doug encounters in Dandelion Wine include wise, older helpers such as his Grandfather and Colonel Freeleigh. He also encounters evil in the form of The Lonely One. In an archetypal subplot, through his dream, he wanders in the “other world” where he sees John Huff, the Happiness Machine, the trolley, Colonel Freeleigh, and his great-grandma, all people and things that have passed out of his life. Mr. Jonas, then, plays the role of spiritual guide, the archetypal character who brings Douglas home from the otherworld. Douglas’s awakening from his fever dream signifies a rebirth, and the end of his metaphoric journey. He is no longer a child, having earned his adulthood.

 

Compare and Contrast

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1920s: In the aftermath of World War I, the United States enters an isolationist phase, concerning itself with its own economy and politics, an isolationism that continues until the American entry into World War II in 1941.

1950s: In the aftermath of World War II, the United States engages in the cold war with the Soviet Union, as the country attempts to stop the spread of communism throughout the world.

Today: The Soviet Union no longer exists, and the cold war is now over.

1920s: The stock market booms, and many invest in the stock market, often on credit, undermining the economic stability of the country. In 1929, the good times come to a halt with the stock market crash of October, ushering in the ten long years of the Great Depression that follows.

1950s: As soldiers return home first from World War II and then the Korean War, unemployment rises and the country experiences another economic slow down, although not nearly as serious as in the Depression-era 1930s.

Today: The bombing of the World Trade Center towers in 2001 leads to a substantial drop in the stock market, pushing up the unemployment rate and causing economic hardships for many Americans.

1920s: The automotive and aviation industries are in their infancy, although it is clear that increased technology will lead the way to ever-greater productivity in both fields.

1950s: Americans purchase cars in record quantities, made affordable by the growth of technology. The newly born aerospace industry races to develop technology to compete with the Soviet Union’s launching of spacecraft.

Today: Growth in technology has taken Americans to the moon and back, and now makes possible communication satellites and further exploration of space. The world grows ever more accessible because of cell phones, jet aircraft, computers, and television, all products of the rapid technological growth.

 

Media Adaptations

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Bradbury adapted Dandelion Wine as a musical several times, most notably in the 1967 Lincoln Center production. While reviews of the performance are available, there are no films of the production.

Dandelion Wine was released on tape by Books on Tape on August 1, 1987.

 

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources

Bradbury, Ray, Dandelion Wine, William Morrow, 2001.

———, “Just This Side of Byzantium: An Introduction,” in Dandelion Wine, William Morrow, 2001, pp. vii–xiv.

Diskin, Lahna, “Bradbury on Children,” in Ray Bradbury, edited by Harold Bloom, Modern Critical Views series, Chelsea House Publishers, 2001, p. 76, originally published in Ray Bradbury, edited by Martin Henry Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander, Taplinger Publishing, 1980, pp. 127–55.

Harmon, William, and C. Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, 7th ed., Prentice Hall, 1996, p. 304.

Knight, Damon, “When I Was in Kneepants: Ray Bradbury,” in In Search of Wonder: Essays on Modern Science Fiction, Advent Publishers, 1956, pp. 108–13.

Mengeling, Marvin E., “Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine: Themes, Sources, and Style,” in English Journal, Vol. 60, No. 7, October 1971, pp. 877, 882.

———, Red Planet, Flaming Phoenix, Green Town: Some Early Bradbury Revisited, Authorhouse, 2002, p. 154.

Reid, Robin Anne, Ray Bradbury: A Critical Companion, Greenwood Press, 2000, p. 72.

Rosenman, John B., “The Heaven and Hell Archetype in Faulkner’s ‘That Evening Sun’ and Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine,” in South Atlantic Bulletin, Vol. 43, No. 2, 1978, p. 12.

Slusser, George Edgar, “Ray Bradbury,” in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 2, American Novelists Since World War II, First Series, edited by Jeffrey Helterman, Gale Research, 1978, pp. 60–65.

Zamora, Lois, “Magical Romance/Magical Realism: Ghosts in U.S. and Latin American Fiction,” in Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community, edited by Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris, Duke University Press, 1995, pp. 499–501.

 

Further Reading

Bloom, Harold, ed., Ray Bradbury, Modern Critical Views series, Chelsea House Publishers, 2001.

While most of the essays included in this collection are reprints, the collection as a whole gives students a broad survey of Bradbury criticism.

Bradbury, Ray, “Memories Shape the Voice,” in The Voice of the Narrator in Children’s Literature: Insights from Writers and Critics, edited by Charlotte F. Otten and Cary D. Schmidt, Greenwood Press, 1989, pp. 132–38.

In this essential article, Bradbury discusses how he wrote Dandelion Wine using his own memories. This essay, titled “Just This Side of Byzantium: An Introduction,” also appears in the 2001 William Morrow edition of Dandelion Wine.

Johnson, Wayne L., Ray Bradbury, Frederick Ungar, 1980.

Johnson provides an interesting chapter on Bradbury’s Green Town stories.

Mogen, David, Ray Bradbury, Twayne, 1986.

Mogen’s book offers both a thorough introduction to Bradbury and a work-by-work analysis of Bradbury’s major fiction.

 

Bibliography

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Bloom, Harold, ed. Ray Bradbury. New York: Chelsea House, 2001.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” New York: Chelsea House, 2001.

Eller, Jonathan R., and William F. Touponce. Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2004.

Reid, Robin Ann. Ray Bradbury: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Touponce, William F. Naming the Unnameable: Ray Bradbury and the Fantastic After Freud. Mercer Island, Wash.: Starmont House, 1997.

Weist, Jerry, and Donn Albright. Bradbury, an Illustrated Life: A Journey to Far Metaphor. New York: William Morrow, 2002.

Weller, Sam. The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury. New York: William Morrow, 2005.

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