“The Lightning-Rod Man” Summary by Herman Melville

The Lightning-Rod Man Summary by Herman Melville
“The Lightning-Rod Man” Summary

“The Lightning-Rod Man” is a short story by Herman Melville about a lightning-rod salesman who makes an intense pitch for his product during a storm. He and his potential customer have very different views on what is in their control. Here’s a summary of “The Lightning-Rod Man”.

“The Lightning-Rod Man” Summary

A man is at his hearthstone in his mountain home during a furious thunderstorm. A stranger comes to the door with a strange walking-stick and is admitted. Although invited to the fire, the lean and gloomy stranger stays in the middle of the cottage, dripping wet.

He holds a polished copper rod, about four feet long, with a wooden base. The man remarks on the stranger’s resemblance to Jupiter and the noble storm he’s brought with him. He invites the stranger to sit.

The stranger remains silent, looking with wonder and horror, and doesn’t move. The man places a chair next to the hearth. The stranger warns him that it’s very dangerous to stand near the hearth during a thunderstorm—the heated air, soot and metal supports for the wood are conductors. He orders the man away from it. Each strike worries him.

The man asks the stranger to make his purpose known. He travels the country selling lightning-rods. Last month in Criggan alone, he sold twenty-three. The man remembers a lightning strike on the steeple there last week, which the salesman blames on the workman who installed it.

His rods are copper, which are far superior to iron rods that can fuse and melt. He gets increasingly agitated as the thunder sounds, calculating the lightning strikes are less than a third of a mile away. He saw oak trees on his way that had been hit, and remarks on the floor being made of oak.

The man finds it odd that the stranger is selling peace-of-mind while he’s so agitated himself. He also chooses terrible weather to ply his trade rather than good days, the way most people would.

The Lightning-Rod Man Summary Herman Melville
“The Lightning-Rod Man” Summary, Cont’d

The stranger warns him not to bar the window (it’s iron) and not to ring the bell for the servant. He says the safest place in the house is in the middle of this room where he stands. He implores the home owner to join him there.

The man insists on an explanation first. It’s because the room is the middle level of the house and he’s as far away as possible from a chimney or wall. It’s also better that his clothes remain wet because they conduct electricity better than the human body. He asks for a rug to stand on, which the man gets.

The man wants to hear about the traveling precautions he takes. The salesman avoids many things that could attract lightning, including tall men who present the worst risk of all. He’s used up enough time answering questions. He runs through the merits of his copper rod and asks if the man will buy one, telling him to think of being charred by a lightning strike.

The man refuses on the grounds that humans can’t prevent a bolt from a divine source. He expresses his confidence at leaving himself in God’s hands. The storm is subsiding now, and the house is unharmed.

They exchange insults and the man orders the stranger out of his house. The stranger gets angry and approaches threateningly with the rod. The man breaks it and throws the salesman out, along with the rod.

Despite the man’s response and his disparaging talk to his neighbors, the lightning-rod man still peddles during storms and does good business off people’s fears.

I hope this summary of “The Lightning-Rod Man” by Herman Melville was helpful.