Study Guide

Dandelion Wine Mortality

By Ray Bradbury

Mortality

Douglas felt but did not feel the deep loam, listening, watchful. We're surrounded! He thought. It'll happen! What? he stopped. Come out, wherever you are, whatever you are! he cried silently. (2.19)

Doug feels his epiphany sneaking up on him like a creature. Even though realizing you're alive is technically a good thing, Doug experiences it as a monster in the woods. It's like he knows that the beauty of life goes hand-in-hand with the ugliness of death, and he recognizes the peril in the awareness he's about to achieve.

The shocks of life, he thought, biking along, what were they? Getting born, growing up, growing old, dying. Not much to do about the first. But—the other three? (9.2)

These are Leo Auffmann's thoughts as he brainstorms his Happiness Machine. Think about all the medical technology that prevents death today—life support machines are just the tip of the iceberg. And people have been known to sleep in hyperbaric chambers (ahem, Michael Jackson) to prevent growing old. Now remember that the Happiness Machine goes up in flames. It's totally a metaphor for how life goes up in flames when you try to intervene in its natural trajectory.

"The Lonely One's around again. Killing people. No one's safe anymore. You never know when the Lonely One'll turn up or where." (10.41)

Pretty creepy words for Tom's mom to say to her ten-year-old while they search for his missing older brother, especially when you consider that he's the one who found his younger sister's body. (See the next quote for more on this.)

Death was his little sister one morning when he awoke at the age of seven, looked into her crib, and saw her staring up at him with a blind, blue, fixed and frozen stare until the men came with a small wicker basket to take her away. (10.44)

This sounds a lot like SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as crib death. Of course, people died far more frequently in 1928 than they do today, because now we have the knowledge, equipment, and medication to cure and prevent common illnesses. Do you think the fact that people died younger in 1928 made the death of a child seem less traumatic to other children, or more so?

"Tell me," she said quietly. "If that machine is like you say, has it got an answer to making babies in it somewhere? Can that machine make seventy-year-old people twenty? Also, how does death look when you hide in there with all that happiness?" (13.36)

More deep thoughts from Lena Auffmann. One way to understand this is that happiness is only possible because we know it's opposite: unhappiness. Life, after all, is arguably more meaningful because we know it will end.

"Yesterday a whole lot of dust settled for good. And I didn't even appreciate it at the time. It's awful, Tom, it's awful! What we going to do without all those soldiers and Generals Lee and Grant and Honest Abe; what we going to do without Ching Ling Soo? I never dreamed so many people could die so fast, Tom. But they did. They sure did!" (26.6)

These are Doug's words to Tom on the day after the death of Colonel Freeleigh, a.k.a. the human time machine. It's true: When we die, our stories, and the people in them, die with us. All the more reason to live your life in such a way that your stories are awesome.

"I never liked lobster in my life, and mainly because I'd never tried it. On my eightieth birthday I tried it. I can't say I'm greatly excited over lobster still, but I have no doubt as to its taste now, and I don't fear it. I dare say death will be a lobster, too, and I can come to terms with that." (28.110)

We love Helen Loomis's philosophy of death here. Add "eating the lobster" to euphemisms for death like "pushing up daisies," "having coffee with Elvis," and "answering the bone phone."

With no fuss or further ado, she traveled the house in an ever-circling inventory, reached the stairs at last, and, making no special announcement, she took herself up three flights to her room where, silently, she laid herself out like a fossil imprint under the snowing cool sheets of her bed and began to die. (32.6)

Fossils are the relics that allow modern humans to travel the farthest back in time. In comparing Great-grandma Spaulding's death to the creation of a fossil, Bradbury is subtly showing us her acceptance of her contribution to the great human time machine. 

YOU CAN'T DEPEND ON <em>PEOPLE</em> BECAUSE…

<em>they go away.

… strangers die.

… people you know fairly well die.

… friends die.

… people</em> murder <em>people like in books.

… your own folks can die. </em>[33.14-15]

A little pessimism from Doug's notebook, here. We're especially intrigued by "people <em>murder </em>people like in books." You know—like the book Doug appears in.

He had to get away from these other boys because they weren't thinking about death, they just laughed and yelled at the dead man as if he still lived. Douglas and the dead man were on a boat pulling away, with all the others left behind on the bright shore, running, jumping, hilarious with motion, not knowing that the boat, the dead man and Douglas were going, going, and now gone into darkness. (34.13)

Have you ever gotten frustrated with your friends were being shallow when you were thinking deep thoughts? If you have, then you've got a literary soul mate in Doug Spaulding.