Summary and Analysis: Medicine for Melancholy A Medicine for Melancholy


Bradbury's often-used smile imagery, here associated with the healing power of love, dominates this story. Camillia, a young girl living in eighteenth-century London, is gradually dying. The doctors have no diagnosis for her illness; they, as well as her parents, feel helplessly desperate. Camillia is frightened, too, wondering if she will live until her twentieth birthday.

Her brother, Jamie, advises that they take her, bed and all, outside so that all passersby might suggest a cure. Perhaps one of the cures will be successful. Many people make diagnoses and offer advice, but the real cure comes from a young Dustman who visits her towards evening. His face is still masked with soot, yet the striking thing about his appearance is his wide, white smile.

The Dustman looks into Camillia's eyes and realizes that love is what she lacks in her life. He informs her that if her illness is to be remedied, she must remain outside throughout the entire night. When he looks down at her, his smile flashes "like warm sunlight in the growing dusk." Even the Dustman's exit is described in terms of smile imagery, for when Camillia sees him for the last time, before he rounds the corner, she seems only to see one big smile blinking off and on in the dark. Later, after the last lights of London go out and everyone is asleep, the Dustman returns, his white, ivory smile still glowing.

When the sun rises on the new day, Camillia is cured. After a long absence, roses are in her cheeks again. She and her family dance together in celebration of the sovereign remedy that has been revealed to her. Love that begins with a smile is the medicine she has needed for her melancholia. Here again, through smile imagery, Bradbury insists that love, smiles, and laughter are powerful combatants against the ills of the world.