Study Guide

Dandelion Wine Machines

By Ray Bradbury

Machines

"Seems like the town is full of machines," says Doug Spaulding at the beginning of Chapter 17. "Mr. Auffmann and his Happiness Machine, Miss Fern and Miss Roberta and their Green Machine. Now, Charlie, what you handing me?" Charlie Woodman says he has a time machine, leading Doug to believe that he's about to show him something made out of scrap metal in the garage. But instead, Charlie takes Doug to meet Colonel Freeleigh, the man whose stories allow Doug to travel throughout the past century.

If you came to Dandelion Wine expecting hardcore sci-fi—which, given that this is Bradbury, it would have been reasonable to expect—you might feel a little cheated when you find out that they're just going to chill with the old guy who lives down the block. But go with us here: Human-as-time-machine is a pretty interesting concept, especially when explored by an author who is both fascinated by and deeply wary of technology.

Bradbury himself didn't trust machines one bit—he never had a driver's license or ATM card, and he did his writing with a pen and paper. He called the Internet "a scam" cooked up by computer companies. But he did very much trust in the power of human relationships and storytelling. When you hold your copy of Dandelion Wine in your hands, you're not just holding Bradbury's nostalgia trip, you're holding the closest thing to a time machine he could give you.

When Doug and Tom hypothesize in Chapter 34 that the animatronic Tarot Witch is in fact a real person trapped in wax, it's not too much of a stretch to imagine Bradbury foreseeing and fearing cyborgs, artificial intelligence, or ASIMO walking up stairs at the Honda plant. And when Leo Auffmann builds the Happiness Machine, that's Bradbury predicting virtual reality, YouTube, and smartphones.

While the characters in Dandelion Wine are time-traveling with Colonel Freeleigh, via his stories about the death of "Oriental magician" Ching Ling Soo (17.27) or watching buffalo stampede with Pawnee Bill (17.40), we readers are time-traveling with the author, who has a very definite point to make: Real social networking happens on our porches, face-to-face.

Bradbury's adamant about the fact that technology will never replace human interaction, and that attempting to use it as a substitute is detrimental to our health. When Leo Auffmann ignores his family because he's so obsessed with building the Happiness Machine, his wife Lena says:

"He hasn't talked to his children in two weeks, they are nervous, they fight, listen! His wife is nervous, she's gained ten pounds, she'll need new clothes, look! Sure—the machine is ready. But happy? Who can say?" (13.21)

The Happiness Machine turns out to be a bust technologically (it bursts into flames), which fits with Bradbury's message of machines as limited. Lena reminds Leo that his family is where it's really at anyway, saying, "You want to see the real Happiness Machine? […] The one they patented a couple thousand years ago, it still runs, not good, all the time, no! but it runs. It's been here all along" (13.129)—referring, of course, to their family.

Later that night, when Doug, Tom, and Grandfather walk by his house and see Leo inside having dinner with his kids, they take note of the fact that he finally got it right. Machines may be dazzling and promise ease, but they always get out of hand in Dandelion Wine, and when they do, the people who use them eventually return to, well, their people. 

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