The "Lightning Rod Man" was a short story written by Herman Melville in 1856. The "Lightning Rod Man" was written during the Romanticism literary period. Romanticism by definition is "The term came to designate a new kind of exotic landscape which evoked feelings of pleasant melancholy” (Kreis) In layman's terms Romanticism meant that landscapes or settings, whether they be literary, political, or artistically; were picture perfect. In Literature for instance; many authors during this time chose to write about stories with happy, endings. The author would write about how nature was good and pure, men could often rise above their means and would always come out on top.


The "Lightning Rod Man" begins with the main character, an unnamed man, thinking to himself how beautiful listening to the weather is. The man hears a knock on his door, and upon answering the door he sees a strange man carrying a sort of trident. The narrator begins to joke about the strange man, calling him Jupiter Tonans, a Roman God (Edkins). Upon arriving the strange man stands directly in the center of the room, the main character invites him to the hearth. The strange man denies steadfastly claiming the narrator should join him in the center of the room. After inquiring why the narrator learns the man is a seller of lightning rods, the man was at his house trying to sell some of them to the narrator. The narrator begins to dislike this man who seems so convinced that nature is a wretched thing. After several more questions the narrator has had enough and loses his temper. He throws the strange man out of his house and the story ends.


Romanticism has several main characteristics according to Deepa Kartha. Three of these characteristics are very important in this book:

Love of Nature: The Romantics greatly emphasized on the importance of nature, and one of the main characteristics of Romanticism in poetry is the beauty of nature found in the country life. This was mainly because the industrial revolution had taken man from the peaceful country life towards the city life, transforming man's natural order. Nature was not only appreciated for its physical beauty by the Romantics, but also for its ability to help the urban man find his true identity.

Emotions v/s Rationality: Unlike the Neoclassical age which focused on rationality and intellect, Romanticism placed human emotions, feelings, instinct and intuition above everything else. While the poets in the former era adhered to the rules and regulations while selecting a subject and writing about it, the Romantic writers trusted their emotions and feelings to create poetry. This belief can be confirmed from the definition of poetry by William Wordsworth, where he says that "poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings". The emphasis on emotions was also spread to music created in the Romantic period, and was seen in the compositions made by great musicians like Weber, Beethoven, Schumann, etc.

Nationalism: The Romantics borrowed heavily from the folklore and the popular art. During the earlier periods, literature and art were considered to belong to the high class educated people, and the country folks were not considered fit to enjoy them. Also, the language used in these works were highly poetic, which was totally different from that which was spoken by people. However, Romanticism changed all this. Their works were influenced from the ballads and folklore that were created by the masses or the common people, rather than from the literary works that were popular. Apart from poetry, adopting from the folklore and ballads is also one of the very important characteristics of Romanticism in music. As the Romantics became interested and focused on developing the folklore, culture, language, customs and traditions of their own country, they developed a sense of Nationalism which reflected in their works. Also, the language used in Romantic poems were simple which was usually used in everyday life (Kartha)

These three characteristics were really the core of literary Romanticism. In this short story they all three play a huge role in shaping the plot, setting and character behavior. The short stories strict adherence to the ideas and principles behind these characteristic clearly shape the short story in to one that can be classified as a Romanticism short story.

The "Lightning Rod Man" exhibits love of nature from the beginning sentence when the narrator says: "What grand irregular thunder, thought I, standing on my hearth-stone among the Acroceraunian hills, as the scattered bolts boomed overhead, and crashed down among the valleys, every bolt followed by zigzag irradiations, and swift slants of sharp rain, which audibly rang, like a charge of spear-points, on my low shingled roof." (Melville) The very beginning of the story starts with the narrator exclaiming his appreciation and love of nature. Later on in the story the strange man mentions he had to walk through a forest to get to the narrator's home. The narrator or the "Good Guy" of the story clearly enjoys nature and it's beauty. While questioning the strange man the narrator expresses astonishment when he speaks of his disdain of walking in nature for it's danger and penchant for attracting lightning. The strange mans seemed frightened by the lightning the narrator finds so beautiful. The strange man or the "Bad Guy" is almost a polar opposite of the narrator. He despises nature, doesn't like people, and seems a hypocrite. Immediately after meeting the strange man in the story Melville shows the reader should not like him by how he is so terrified by something as beautiful and natural as lightning and rain. The reader is made to become tired of the man's incessant reasoning as to why everything in the world is bad and dangerous and the narrator simply must protect himself. Clearly the author intended to make the reader feel as though everything in the story that was good had to do with the narrator who loved nature, and everything bad in the story have to do with the strange man who feared and disliked nature. Before the Romanticism period in literature there was the Rationalism period. To better understand Romanticism and why it has certain characteristics Rationalism must be understood. Rationalism as said by the University of Stanford is: "Still another dimension of rationalism depends on how its proponents understand the connection between intuition, on the one hand, and truth, on the other. Some take intuition to be infallible, claiming that whatever we intuit must be true. Others allow for the possibility of false intuited propositions"(Markie) Rationalism is the act of choosing something based on concrete scientific data proving what you think to be true is true. Romanticism was a rebellion by authors against this idea, Romanticism seemed to encourage authors to write about what they felt to be true. Romanticism authors did not feel the need to justify their beliefs and their reasoning, they simplybelieved them to be true. This idea is shown in how the narrator reacts when the strange man finishes explaining the dangers of not having a lightning rod. In a rage the narrator tells the man:

"You pretended envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to and from Jupiter Tonans," laughed I; "you mere man who come here to put you and your pipestem between clay and sky, do you think that because you can strike a bit of green light from the Leyden jar, that you can thoroughly avert the supernal bolt? Your rod rusts, or breaks, and where are you? Who has empowered you, you Tetzel, to peddle round your indulgences from divine ordinations? The hairs of our heads are numbered, and the days of our lives. In thunder as in sunshine, I stand at ease in the hands of my God. False negotiator, away! See, the scroll of the storm is rolled back; the house is unharmed; and in the blue heavens I read in the rainbow, that the Deity will not, of purpose, make war on man's earth." (Melville)

After this rant the narrator throws the strange man out of his house. While yelling at the strange man the narrator says something very telling, he claims " I stand at ease in the hands of my God" (Melville) such a statement as this is a very emotional reply to the strange man. The narrator has no proof or promise the his God will not strike him down in the next instant but he feels that he will be alright and he believes what he feels. This action by the character is an effect and byproduct of the author's own belief, clearly an author of Romanticism values. The third characteristic of Romanticism was nationalism, nationalism defined by the University of Standford is: "The term “nationalism” is generally used to describe two phenomena: (1) the attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identity, and (2) the actions that the members of a nation take when seeking to achieve (or sustain) self-determination."(Mescevic) From this definition and the Romanticism characteristic of Nationalism it is clear that the idea of nationalism during this period was not simply about being patriotic. But as well as the comradery the nations citizens felt for enduring the same trials and hardships as their neighbors. Not to say that the citizens were not proud of their country. The narrator in the story seems unimpressed when the strange man talks of all the lightning rods he has sold in Canada. The narrator seems to believe it is inconsequential. This sense of nationalism or comradery is most evident in the story by the narrator seems shocked and appalled when the strange man says he avoids tall people. The narrator can not believe his ears. To avoid people is almost a sin, how could someone do such a thing? Clearly the narrator has an issue with the strange man's apparent lack of fellowship. This is really the nail in the coffin for the strange man. Obviously with the author putting such emphasis on this idea it was something of very important value to him. Clearly a short story with such carefully interwoven traits of it's own could only be described as a Romanticism piece. The man who shaped the story gave his on beliefs to it.

Herman Melville led an extraordinary life full of life changing events. As a young boy Herman got to listen to stories from his grandfather, a former Boston Tea Party member. How it must have shaped young Herman's beliefs to hear this great oak of a man talk about all the amazing things he had done. Especially being such a young person Melville must have been influenced in certain ways. For example, in the short story The "Lightning Rod Man" the main character is a fiercely independent and free minded man. The main character lives alone in the woods to start with. When the lightning rod salesman tells him how many people have boguht a lightning rod so far the main character simply says "you mere man who come here to put you and your pipe stem between clay and sky, do you think that because you can strike a bit of green light from the Leyden jar, that you can thoroughly avert the supernal bolt?"(Melville) Obviously with such a strongly worded response the main character cares not for what other men think, and much like his revolutionary grandfather Melville's main character believes that he knows best.

During the middle years of Herman Melville's life he spent much time on boat (Sullivan). It was during one of these long voyages he came to the island of Marquesas (Miller). Here Herman lived in harmony with the natives, the Typee. When he left the Typee people he went to Honolulu and was infamous for his strong opposition to Christian's attempting to convert the local people (Miller) Why would such a religious man, one who would later join the Unitarian Church, oppose such a religious thing? At this time in American history any race other than Caucasian was viewed as inferior, almost like animals. So it would be correct to say that when he stayed with the natives on those islands he viewed them as part of nature. Like a wild animal's habitat almost. Obviously in Melville's mind his opposition to the missionaries was not the religious message they preached but what he perceived to be a perversion of nature. Such a strong feeling about nature can be seen in most of his stories. In The "Lightning Rod Man" the main character lives in the woods, with no one else. He is at peace with nature. The narrator seems to enjoy the thunderstorm, describing the great thunder and the slanting rain, he loves the weather. When the sales man begins talking about fear of the weather the main character seems almost offended, even hurt that the man could be so disapproving of such a beautiful thing as nature.

Lastly, Herman Melville was a very religious man. While he was married to his wife he joined the Unitarian Church. Joining a church is a big responsibility and shows than he really believed in what they said. Even though he did disapprove of the missionaries on Honolulu he did not disapprove of them for religious means simply for disturbing nature (Miller). In the short story The "Lightning Rod Man" the main character exclaims " I stand at ease in the hands of my God. False negotiator, away! See, the scroll of the storm is rolled back; the house is unharmed; and in the blue heavens I read in the rainbow, that the Deity will not, of purpose, make war on man's earth."(Melville) Such a strong and convincing statement clearly shows the main characters conviction to his God. Herman Melville put his own beliefs and ideas in to his stories as all authors do. The main character's beliefs are the same beliefs as his. Melville's life and experiences had a profound impact on his writing and the values he put forth in his stories.

Herman Melville wrote many stories in his life. Some were for his own enjoyment, some were for his friends, and some were cause he was just short on cash. Each of these stories are related in certain ways by the unique style of writing that Melville had. In each of his stories Melville wanted the reader to learn something. In the case of The "Lightning Rod Man" Melville wanted the reader to have an appreciation for nature and fate. Whereas in the Bartleby, the Scrivener Melville intended for the reader to come away with a morbid sense of their own mortality. Stylistically many of Herman Melville's stories are the same. The reader is originally drawn in by simple interest in this strange character who has appeared, the salesman in The "Lightning Rod man" and Bartleby in Bartleby, the scrivener. Then the new character is meant to first be someone you can fell bad for, a poor soaking salesman, or a out of work recluse. Then as the story goes on they become people we begin to have doubts about and finally people we flat out dislike. Melville obviously favored this style of writing.

In many of Herman Melville's stories the characters are very similar. There is a often a good character who exemplifies the characteristics of romanticism, a man who is in tune with nature, friends with everyone, and a good god fearing soul. There is also always a bad character, the man who drags the story down, someone who shows disdain for the accepted ideas of the time, someone who clearly is meant to be an example of what not to do. In The "Lightning Rod Man" the main character is the good guy someone who is caring and loving, the salesman is the bad guy, full of disdain for fellowship and nature. In Bartleby it is much the same. The narrator is a kind, hard working old fellow who lets Bartleby leech and leech from him, and Bartleby is the man who we begin to lose more and more respect for as he falls ever deeper in to depression. Obviously these characters have many things in common with each other and their opposing character from the other story.

Herman Melville was a fantastic author who had a profound impact on the romanticism period through his many wonderful works. Melville put his own feelings and opinions in to his stories through his characters and settings. The "Lightning Rod Man" was a fantastic example of romanticism and clearly exhibits multiple characteristic of a romanticism style writing. Melville will be remember for a long time.


















Works Cited

Sullivan, Wilson (1972). New England Men of Letters.. New York: Atheneum. ISBN 0027886808.

Miller, Perry (1956). The Raven and the Whale: The War of Words and Wits in the Era of Poe and Melville. New York: Harvest Book.

Kreis, Steven. "Toward a Definition of Romanticism." The History Guide -- Main. 4 Aug. 2009. Web. 09 Dec. 2010. <http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/romanticism.html>.

Kartha, Deepa. "Romanticism: Characteristics of Romanticism." Buzzle Web Portal: Intelligent Life on the Web. Web. 09 Dec. 2010. <http://www.buzzle.com/articles/romanticism-characteristics-of-romanticism.html>.

Edkins, Jo. "Jupiter." Roman Gods. Web. 09 Dec. 2010. <http://gwydir.demon.co.uk/jo/roman/jupiter.htm>.

Marki, Peter. "Rationalism vs. Empiricism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. University of Stanford, 9 Dec. 2009. Web. 09 Dec. 2010. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rationalism-empiricism/#1.1>.

Melville, Herman. ""The Lightning-rod Man"" The Life and Works of Herman Melville. Multiverse, 19 Nov. 2007. Web. 09 Dec. 2010. <http://www.melville.org/lrman.htm>.

Mescevic, Nenad. "Nationalism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. University of Stanford, 1 June 2010. Web. 09 Dec. 2010. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nationalism/>.