Dandelion Wine
Ray Bradbury
Contributed by Loretta Ingwersen
Chapter 12
Summary

Researching for his Happiness Machine, Leo Auffmann consults with his wife Lena on whether or not she fits the definition of happiness. Lena finds this silly, and for the first time in twenty years accidentally burns the bread she was baking. Leo disappears in the midst of her outrage. After ten days, Leo completes his machine and announces so to his family; Lena points out that during this time, he and she have both lost weight and the children have become troubled by their father’s absence. Asked by his wife if this is what’s meant by happiness, Leo faints. He wakes up the next morning and realizes the machine had been turned on; he asks his oldest son Saul, who tells him Leo had asked him earlier to do so. Lena is still against the machine, asking if it will make old people young or take care of the family if Leo dies from overwork. Leo tries to defend his creation and decides that the next day the whole family will try the machine together.

Late that night, Leo wakes to hear Saul crying and realizes he’d been using the Happiness Machine. The next day, Lena is dividing all their belongings, preparing to leave her husband. After much of the dividing occurs, she asks to see the machine that gave her son nightmares. The machine is a large, colored box and she steps inside it; Leo is pleased when he hears her initial delighted reactions at the sights she witnesses of various places in the world, but grows alarmed when he realizes she has begun weeping.

As she steps out of the machine, she explains how it’s truly a Sadness Machine because it reminds her of things that she does not have in everyday life. She points out to Leo that sad moments are necessary to balance happy ones, but Leo remains unconvinced. He goes into the machine to try it for himself, but after he climbs into it the machine catches fire. Leo escapes and he tells Saul to call the fire department, but Lena makes her son wait until the machine was damaged beyond repair. Lena asks Leo if he’s figured out his Happiness Machine, and calls her children to put the house back in order.

Grandfather Spaulding, Douglas, and Tom visit Leo in his garage later, after the first has been extinguished. Leo shows the three Leo’s true happiness machine: his family at home, happy and peaceful, with Leo as the engineer, making sure the family runs smoothly.

Analysis

Technology becomes a kind of temptress to Leo and seduces him away from his family. For Lena, the pursuit of happiness is pointless if one is already happy - that is, theory should never trump practice. At the end, Leo’s family is described as a kind of machine itself, a system of interactions: in that sense, Leo is an engineer who guides the machine and makes it run more smoothly.

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