November 09, 2004

Of Ravens and Whalers and Very Fine Rods

Today was the day of the grand and portentous presentation by Randy, Gallagher, and Yours Truly on Messrs. Poe and Melville for American Literature I. This means two things: First, I haven't posted in a few days because I've been trying to spend all of the time when I was anywhere near a computer drowning myself in information on said authors. Second, this is the first of the major projects, papers, and presentations discussed in an earlier post and that means that I will be swamped from now until the end of the semester.

In fact, even if the only use I had for my time was to do schoolwork, I would be swamped. But that isn't all there is . . . *sigh* Anyway, it's not as if I cared, so I don't know why I'm complaining. I suspect that the answer is something like "Because I can." But I'm getting off the subject . . . Let's talk presentation.

The basic outline ran something like this. Gallagher got up and gave a short devo. I got up and (literally) raced through the European Romantics ("The Dry, Musty Gallery of Old, Dead White Guys"), then transitioned into the American Romantics. After doing little more than mentioning that they existed (Dr. Olson already spent a whole class period on them, and will be spending many more in future) I jumped straight to the men themselves: Herman Melville and Edgar Allen Poe.

After a few minutes talking about why Poe is . . . well, worth reading, I guess . . . I turned it over to the guy in charge of his biography. He talked, blah blah blah. Randy talked about the darker elements of Poe, focusing on a few stories in particular. We had a copy of The Simpsons version of "The Raven" but we hadn't been able to get it to work. So that sucked . . . we could have used the break in talking. Then the girl who was doing Poe's romantic poetry stood up and talked and read a few of them and so on and so forth, etc.

Then I got up and transitioned from Poe to Melville. The biography guy got up and talked about Melville, blah blah blah. And then Gallagher took over and told us about Moby Dick, Billy Budd, and "Bartelby the Scrivener" (which is so great).

Then it was time for our dramatic reading of "The Lightning-rod Man" (full text provided with link). I read the non-dialogue portions, Gallagher played the narrator, and Randy played the title character. We used a black-and-red plastic pitchfork as the lightning rod, and very few other props. But nevermind that. I want to talk about the story.

Here's what I think it means: The Lightning-rod Man is a traveling fire-and-brimstone evangelist, the lightning rod is "salvation," and the Narrator is a Romantic, unbound by traditionalism.

Note the portrayal of the title character in the story. He is by turns furious and terrified, but strangely impotent throughout. While the Narrator is free to roam about his cabin, standing in whatever spot is most comfortable, the Lightning-rod Man is paralyzed in the center of the room, dripping water. ("I am better here, and better wet." What do you think that is a reference to?)

As for the sales pitch, the Lightning-rod Man is very loud and insistent, assuring the Narrator that immediate and certain destruction is the inevitable consequence of refusing to purchase a lightning rod. He refuses to provide any empirical reasons for his views when the Narrator asks. He insists that his lightning rod is somehow of higher quality than other rods (which are worthless).

In fact, this is the reason given as to why a girl was struck while holding rosary beads (one of the only directly "Christian" references in the story). When the Narrator points out that even those who purchased the superior rods have been struck by lightning, the salesman blames improper installation rather than his product.

The Narrator, realizing that there is no malicious, judgmental force at work in the midst of the thunderstorm, glories freely in its beauty and majesty. He attempts to romanticize the Lightning-rod Man as an avatar of the thunder god, and is soundly reprimanded for speaking in "pagan" terms.

Finally, the Narrator stands up to the salesman, calling him "Tetzel" and stating definitely that there is nothing to fear from God or Nature. "Tetzel" responds, true to form, with accusations of heresy . . . And is promptly thrown out on his ear.

The story ends with a warning to the reader that "the Lightning-rod man still dwells in the land; still travels in storm-time, and drives a brave trade with the fears of man."

It all seems really bleeding obvious when I say it like this, (plus, Mr. Fry had already pretty much given that away in his comment a few months back . . . which I had completely forgotten about until recently), but it took me three or four readings to fully figure out what was going on. Anyway . . .

Cool story. Ultimately fun presentation.

Posted by Jared at November 9, 2004 11:59 PM | TrackBack