Art History in Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine”

While the main characters are kids learning about the world around them, there’s also vignettes involving adults going about their life in a strange Illinois town (Green Town).  There’s not much of a plot.  Actions do happen, but when I finished the book, I find myself wondering if I wasted my time.  Even the celebrated Dandelion Wine only acted as a bookend to the story (or stories) as a whole.  Is the dandelion an allegory for the book’s exploration on life’s fragility?  The Sparknotes link thinks so.  Regarding Bradbury’s writing, his tendency to make the ordinary seem magical can at best, be charming, but I occasionally found it overblown.  Lastly, regarding the main kid Douglas Spaulding, I think Bradbury implied that he might be God of Green Town.

There is some art history references.  The first one involves something called “The Happiness Machine”.  I’m not sure if it’s Bradbury’s version of a virtual reality machine or just a movie projector.  Either way, when a character goes inside, she mentions seeing Egypt’s most well-known architectural marvels.  Interestingly, while she name drops cities, she does not name Egypt, just their imposing religious buildings.

Other characters reminisce about traveling around the world and Bradbury implies that through their storytelling, they can bring other people with them mentally to those places.  During that vignette, the book repeats itself with references to Egypt’s pyramids and the Sphinx.  Versailles’ fabled Hall of Mirrors also gets a mention.

More art history references came in the form of Armenian rugs used during an outdoor family gathering.

While not mentioning the Art Institute of Chicago, Spaulding reminisces about going to Chicago and seeing sculpture.  The story takes place in 1928 and the Art Institute opened in 1879.  I went to the website and looked up marble sculptures and their provenance, and I found very little to connect to what Spaulding saw.

In fact, European art traditions dominated Green Town culture.  Such as one character (an older woman) lives in a “three-story Victorian house” and another character commenting on jewelry crafted to resemble the Tower of Pisa.  The only non-European influenced art came from Japanese wind chimes.  They went by another name in the book, but the name I wrote came up when I did a search.

When Spaulding writes, his proclamations and diverse execution of words in uppercase and lowercase letters reminded me of manifestos written by the Futurists and Dadaists.

Reaching the end of the book, I discovered something I had never heard of before.  Spaulding called it “photographic spindles” and from what I could deduce, they were little movies that looped over and over.  I searched for more information, but I could not find anything more substantial.  So, if you have more information, please leave a comment.  I looked up other people’s analysis of the novel, and they pointed out the story’s anti-technology themes.  I understand that, but the spindles found here is modern technology (at least for 1928) and the book had no problem with this piece of entertainment.  Same thing with the Happiness Machine.  I never saw it as a warning against technology so much as one should not stay in fantasy land forever.

Lastly, the town has a library with lion sculptures at the entrance, which called to mind the New York Public Library statues.  I did look up libraries in Illinois, and I found the buildings rather modern, with no lions (from what I could see in pictures) around.

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