Summary and Analysis: Medicine for Melancholy A Scent of Sarsaparilla


For William Finch, an elderly man, the days of the past glow much brighter than those of the present or future. Finch's only solace is in his attic. Here are the memories of the past, the good days, the times that even in retrospect can make him smile. A red candy-striped coat, ice-cream pants, bicycle clips — these and other memorabilia give him the warmth that he needs. The attic becomes another world for Finch, distinctly separate from the world below. In the attic, the dust is like incense burning, like time itself burning, and all Finch has to do is "peer into the flames." In these fires of the past, he finds happiness and renewal for his spirit. Moreover, these fires of the past enable him to transcend reality. "I'm going to Hannahan's Pier for a bowl of clam chowder," Finch says to his wife, adding that he is requesting the brass band to play "Moonlight Bay." He pleads with her to return with him to the past, but his wife thinks he is just a foolish old man. Later, however, when Finch does not come down from the attic, Cora climbs to the attic in search of him. He has indeed disappeared into his past. All that remains is a slight scent of sarsaparilla.

Fire imagery indicating transformation and regeneration within people is dominant in this story. Here, fire imagery symbolizes our need for remembrances of times past. These memories are healthy for us, and, for William Finch, they provide regeneration for his weary spirit. Bradbury is a firm believer in nostalgia. He does not advocate remembering the past for reasons of sentiment; however, he feels that we need the past as a foundation for our future endeavors. Bradbury feels that we cannot possibly speak of and plan for the future unless we have a strong understanding of the past.