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.
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.
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.
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...
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