This section contains 3,840 words
(approx. 10 pages at 400 words per page)
Dandelion Wine Summary & Study Guide Description
Dandelion Wine Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
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.
Douglas Spaulding, age 12, is the main character in the novel. Douglas has never traveled outside the small community of Green Town so in essence it is his whole world. He is content in this world, with a secure, loving family environment, good friends, familiar comforts, and small town intrigue. On the first day of summer, 1928, Douglas discovers that he is truly alive. With this new awareness, he keeps a journal of old rites and new adventures and revelations. The discovery has awakened all his senses and makes him appreciate his world in a new way, including the delicate balance between man and nature. At the same time, the summer brings unexpected changes that shake his foundation and childlike perspective. While the discovery of life leaves Douglas' head reeling with joy, experiencing the power of death - people, friendships, and traditions - makes him depressed and unsettled. His coming of age makes him wiser about the fragility of things, living or manmade, and by the end of the novel we sense he will adapt well with a more adult understanding of life cycles and inevitable changes.
Douglas' closest relationship is with his brother Tom, even though they bicker like most siblings. He and Tom share secrets, experiences, and revelations. We see their true feelings for each other, when there is a threat. Tom fears for Douglas' life, when he is out in the ravine at night or sick with a high fever. Douglas fears that Tom might one day leave him the way his best friend John Huff did.
Ten year-old Tom is Douglas' younger brother. He loves to keep statistics for everything, such as how many times he has brushed his teeth or the number of peaches he has eaten in his life. Compared to Douglas, he is much more carefree and optimistic. Douglas believes Tom has already discovered the sudden aliveness he is just feeling, because despite his age, Tom seems that much more attuned to the world around him. Tom also displays normal childhood fears and anxieties and makes personal growth of his own. When out at the dark ravine searching for Douglas, his fear is heightened by the realization his mother is physically vulnerable, seeing her this way for the first time.
Father does not appear often, but he is a steady, reliable presence. At the beginning of summer he teaches Tom and Douglas about the wonders of nature during a hike in the woods. On this hike, Douglas discovers he is truly alive. He believes that Father planned the hike so he would discover the secret. Later that summer, when Douglas tries to save the wax fortuneteller from the arcade, believing that Mme. Tarot is trapped inside, Father helps him put the figuring back together. Father remembers the figuring from his own childhood and understands Douglas' desires to rescue her. Douglas is grateful for his care and support.
Like Father, Mother is not often literally present unless working with the other Spaulding women or tending to her children. She is kind, patient, and strong in the boys' eyes. In one section she is featured prominently. Douglas is playing in the ravine on evening and it's very late. Rumors of the Lonely One scare her so she takes Tom to the ravine to look for Douglas. Through Tom's eyes we see a woman that is vulnerable and afraid. She is also afraid when Douglas is sick with a high fever, again fearing for his life.
Head of the Spaulding clan, Grandfather thrives on the rituals of the seasons. He is the concoctor of dandelion wine, the novel's title, and directs the process with his grandsons like the captain of a ship to his crew. Intelligent and wise, Grandfather sees the world close to perfect as long as man does not interfere too much. He is a believer in tradition and a slower pace of life that lets him appreciate the little wonders. He strongly resists change, such as when Bill Forrester tries to put in new grass that doesn't need mowing or Aunt Rose tries to change Grandma's kitchen.
Grandma is a lesser figure, until the end of the novel. She is a culinary wizard, though follows no recipes in her messy kitchen. Her natural touch is upset, when an interfering aunt tries to bring order to the kitchen. Grandma loses her touch and only regains it after Douglas returns her kitchen to its former state.
The matriarch of the Spaulding family, Great-grandma is young at heart if old in body. We learn that she repairs roofs, fixes cars, and keeps the house in good order. She connects to Douglas and Tom and shares wisdom that they can comprehend on her deathbed. Before her death she is rarely seen except doing summer chores with the other Spaulding women, such as beating the rugs.
John Huff is Douglas' best friend. Douglas sees him in a god-like way, because John can do everything better than other boys. He can play ball better, jump higher, and run faster.
John, Charlie, and Douglas spend much of the early summer together, exploring the ravine and other Green Town sites. One day, John announces he is moving away. This is a devastating blow to Douglas. They spend John's last evening together, trying to slow down time until, inevitably, John must hurry to catch the train.
Charlie is one of Douglas' good friends. He is easy going and carefree. He introduces Douglas to Colonel Freeleigh, who he describes as a living time machine.
Leo Auffmann is the town jeweler and movie projectionist. He is married with six children. Although an inventor at heart, he complains of the disasters machines create, such as bombs and car accidents. Douglas gives him the idea to invent a Happiness Machine. Leo undertakes the challenge, hoping to ease the sufferings of humanity. The project ends in disaster as his family unravels and his wife threatens to leave him. When the machine self-destructs, Leo realizes he misinterpreted the meaning of happiness. It is something he already has at home.
Leo's wife, Lena, is content with her life, as difficult as it is to manage such a large household. When Leo begins work on the Happiness Machine, it destroys the order of her routine and leads to fighting between all the family members. Lena tries to argue her case that man should live with nature, not question or interfere with it. Leo is stubborn and refuses to listen. Finally she gives Leo an ultimatum and threatens to leave. Before going she tries the Happiness Machine. The experience makes her cry as it shows her a world she could never have, such as trips to Paris.
As his name implies, Colonel Freeleigh fought many a battle during the Civil War. An elderly man confined to a wheelchair, the Colonel relishes in the expansive memories of his youth, like watching roaming buffalo, seeing President Lincoln, and traveling the world. We learn that he was born in Illinois, raised in Virginia, married in New York, built a house in Tennessee and late in life made his home in Green Town. The boys call the Colonel a Time Machine because of the vivid way in which he presents his stories. Just before his death, the Colonel places several calls to Mexico City to hear the vibrancy of a city he visited in his youth. The phone is still connected, when Douglas discovers his lifeless body.
Seventy-two year-old Helen Bentley is a widow, who moved to Green Town five years ago after selling off all her husband's rental properties. She saves everything meticulously, from childhood china to her husband's silk hat and cane. All the items in her home remind her of her youth, which she sorely misses. When she meets Tom and a couple of girls, they refuse to believe she was ever young or even has a first name. Mrs. Bentley desperately tries to prove she was young through items she has saved, but still the children won't believe her. She realizes that she is living in the past instead of the present. She gives away all her old things and agrees with the children that she was never young and has no first name.
A lodger at Grandfather's house, Bill Forester is an amiable young newspaper reporter. He and Grandfather have differing views on the world, evidenced when Bill tries to plant grass that doesn't need mowing. After listening to Grandfather speak on the small pleasures of life, such as the smell of fresh cut grass or the sound of a mower, he good-naturedly relents and throws out the grass. He is a bachelor who has not found a woman he is attracted to, until he meets elderly Helen Loomis. They share a mutual meeting, and they develop a close friendship, until she dies about three weeks after their first meeting.
Helen, the 90-year-old spinster, appears in only one section. Although she had opportunities to marry when she was young, she was far too wild. Instead, she spent her adulthood traveling the world. She is a fascinating, educated woman as a result but regrets her decision not to have a life partner. Helen develops a meaningful friendship with Bill Forester. At the end of August, Helen Loomis passes away just days after she predicts her own death.
Mr. Tridden, the trolley conductor, plans to retire with the retirement of the trolley, which will be replaced by a bus. An easygoing, friendly man, he takes a group of children on a free ride and picnic on the trolley's last day of operation.
Lavinia Nebbs is a 33-year-old spinster, who lives alone. She is considered the prettiest woman in Green Town but tends to put men off with her strong-willed nature. She spends her evenings home alone or out with friends. One night, Lavinia and a friend come across the murdered body of a woman they know in the ravine. Lavinia's friends are scared to be out, because the Lonely One has struck again. In contrast, Lavinia feels excited by the danger and insists on walking home alone through the ravine. When she senses she is being followed, she is gripped by fear and realizes she has been a fool. She races home only to hear a man inside the house. We discover through the children that Lavinia managed to fight off the Lonely One and kill him with a pair of sewing shears.
The Lonely One
The Lonely One is the feared murderer of young women. To the children, he is a mythological character, who grew up in an icehouse and is pale and frightening. The chubby middle-aged man, who is eventually killed by Lavinia Nebbs is hardly the stuff of their imagination. The children convince themselves that this man was not the Lonely One, who must still be lurking somewhere in the shadows.
Miss Fern and Miss Roberta
Miss Fern and Miss Roberta, the elderly sisters, are owners of the Green Machine, an electric two-seater scooter with a parasol and rubber bulb horn. They live together with a younger brother. They are sweet women, who often let the children hitch rides on their machine. One day they accidentally run a man over and hide in their attic in a panic. Although they later discover the man was unharmed, they decide not to ever ride the Green Machine again for fear they might hurt someone else. They agree that they are too old to take such risks.
Mr. Anderson is a middle-aged man, who owns the shoe store where Douglas buys his Litefoot sneakers. He remembers the joys of his own childhood, when Douglas convinces him to try on a pair of sneakers. He agrees to give Douglas the sneakers he wants in exchange for running errands.
A jealous, accident-prone woman, Elmira keeps up on town gossip from her postmaster husband. She believes that her neighbor, Clara Goodwater, is a witch. Elmira covets her position as president of a ladies lodge and believes that witchcraft has stopped her from ever being elected. An accident changes their feuding relationship and Elmira finally inadvertently achieves her goal.
Clara is the president of the Honeysuckle Ladies Lodge. She has held this position since anyone can remember. She is easy going and well liked by all except Elmira Brown. She toys with Elmira's gossipy ways and silly beliefs that she is a witch. However, she feels a great sense of guilt, when Clara falls down a long flight of stairs as a result of their feud. She gives up the presidency to Elmira to compensate.
An independent, free spirited man, Mr. Jonas gave up a conventional job to become a junk dealer. He appears toward the end of the novel with his wagon full of goods. The children are able to barter their toys for others. When Douglas is sick, Tom seeks Mr. Jonas' help. Mr. Jonas compares himself to Douglas. They are sensitive sorts, who get sadder than others, because they feel things more. He helps Douglas recover by giving him two bottles of arctic air to inhale.
Aunt Rose is a minor character, who appears toward the end of the book. She has come to visit the Spaulding clan and is staying in the grandparent's home. A woman who likes functionality and order, she makes Grandma neaten her kitchen and change her cooking habits. The consequences are dire. Grandfather is furious over the interference and politely sends Aunt Rose packing on the next train.
This section contains 3,840 words
(approx. 10 pages at 400 words per page)