Dandelion Wine
Ray Bradbury
Contributed by Loretta Ingwersen
Chapter 14
Summary

Mrs. Helen Bentley saves all kinds of items, memories of her past. Her husband John died in 1924 and she kept what she could of him, though it didn’t seem enough. One summer day she sees three children on her lawn and treats them it ice cream when the ice cream wagon passes. The children introduce themselves: Alice, Jane, and Tom Spaulding. Mrs. Bentley introduces herself, noting that she was called Helen, and is annoyed when the children seem surprised at the notion of old ladies having first names. The children press Mrs. Bentley on her age, and she tells them she is seventy-two; she adds that she feels no different now than when she was the age of the children.

Again, the children are disturbed: they believe Mrs. Bentley is lying about having ever been a little girl. Angered by their refusal to believe she was once young, she dismisses the children. In her house, Mrs. Bentley finds proof that she was once young: a hair comb, a tiny ring, jackstones, and a picture of herself at seven years old. The children continue to scoff at the notion that this old lady was once young, and refuse to believe she was once married. When she presses the two girls, they insist that children are children, old women are old women, and their own mothers have never changed. The two girls then leave, taking with them Mrs. Bentley’s childhood objects. Tom tries to stop them, but Alice insists these were stolen items.

That night, Mrs. Bentley sits among souvenirs of her past, and considers how her childhood has been long gone. She sees her husband’s opera cane and imagines what her husband would have said: that the children are right, that nothing was stolen from her, that the things of her past don’t belong to her in the here and now. With this, Mrs. Bentley makes a decision to do something final about her belongings and goes to sleep. The next morning, Alice and Jane arrive at Mrs. Bentley’s door, asking if she has any more little girl things for her. She does, and asks the girls to help her dispose of trash she’s accumulated. Tom joins them in this task, and when the ice cream wagon comes by, she buys them treats, and herself as well this time. Now friends, the children ask how old she is: she says she is seventy-two and always has been, that she never was young, and doesn’t have a first name.

Analysis

This story emphasizes the rather Buddhist notion of letting go of one’s past and possessions, of living strictly for the moment and accepting one’s lot in life. There is a moral ambiguity to this story however: has she given up, or is she truly at peace with her present life?

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