Study Guide

Dandelion Wine Happiness

By Ray Bradbury


Should a Happiness Machine, he wondered, be something you can carry in your pocket?

Or, he went on, should it be something that carries you in <em>its</em> pocket?

"One thing I absolutely <em>know</em>," he said aloud. "It should be <em>bright</em>." (13.2-4)

Leo Auffmann thinks brightness equates to happiness, but considering the fact that his machine ultimately goes up in flames (which are nothing if not bright), we're not sure he's right about this one.

"Lena?" He glanced at the dictionary. "Are you 'pleased, contented, joyful, delighted'? Do you feel 'Lucky, fortunate?' Are things 'clever and fitting,' 'successful and suitable' for you?" (13.6)

Do you think the dictionary gets happiness right? Are there components of this definition that you think don't belong? Is anything missing?

"Leo Auffmann," said his wife, "has lost fifteen pounds. 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)

Leo's search for happiness creates unhappiness, not only for himself, but for his entire family. Oops.

Was Saul unhappy, in need of the machine? No, happy, but wanting to hold onto happiness always. Could you blame a boy wise enough to know his position who tried to keep it that way? (13.53)

Which leads us to ask: If you've always been happy, can you even comprehend what "unhappy" is? (Yeah, we're getting deep here. We know you can handle it.)

"You want to see the <em>real </em>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)

One way to understand this is that happiness can be built—but instead of with machine parts, it needs to be built with human connections.

And he watched with now-gentle sorrow and now-quick delight, and at last quiet acceptance as all the bits and pieces of this house mixed, stirred, settled, poised, and ran steadily again. "The Happiness Machine," he said. "The Happiness Machine." (13.137)

In a way, Leo Auffmann's family is a more complicated and delicate mechanism than any watch he could repair or machine he could build. Does familial happiness require that each member serve a specific function, like the parts of a smoothly running machine?

"No, Happiness Machine," said Douglas, and was sad to see it burning there. He had been counting on Leo Auffmann to keep things in order, keep everybody smiling, keep the small gyroscope he often felt inside himself tilting toward the sun every time the earth tilted toward outer space and darkness. (14.31)

Doug's understanding of the body as a machine ties in nicely with the idea of people as time machines, which we explore elsewhere in this section in our discussion of memory as a theme. 

"All I know is I feel good going to bed nights, Doug. That's a happy ending once a day. Next morning I'm up and maybe things go bad. But all I got to do is remember that I'm going to bed that night and just lying there a while makes everything okay." (29.7)

Tom's assessment of happiness is all the more poignant in a book in which we see how much adulthood complicates happiness (what with the children, families, illness, aging and all). 

"You just won't admit you like crying, too. You cry just so long and everything's fine. And there's your happy ending." (29.14)

Tom's pretty astute when it comes to acknowledging the line between happiness and sadness. It's similar to Doug's awareness of life going hand-in-hand with an awareness of death; ultimately, once Doug's found some perspective, the latter makes the former no less sweet.

"Next year's going to be even bigger, days will be brighter, nights longer and darker, more people dying, more babies born, and me in the middle of it all." (40.13)

This is the hard-won happiness Doug achieves at the end of the book. It also seems to be a <em>bigger </em>happiness, a growth which seems indebted to his greater appreciation for the sorrows that also come in life.

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