The Lightning Keeper by Starling Lawrence is a love story caught in the middle of the clash of social classes. Two lovers – Toma Pekocevic, a Montenegrin Serb and a mechanical genius who immigrated to America after almost his entire family perished in the power politics ripping the Balkan states in 1914, and Harriet Bigelow, an heiress to a Connecticut dynasty of iron-making industrialists – held such desire for each other but were forced to chose between their affair and the needs of their time.
Set in the vivid colors of the early years of the 20th century, Lawrence takes us to an era were battles were fought, not for the country, but for the whims of the parasitic industrial magnates. Crossing different time zones, historic events, and social caste, the novel told a story that went deeper that it touched the enclave of class struggle. The main characters in the novel, a working man and an industrialist, were suffused in real life encounters with the dictates of their class consciousness that in their love affair such conditions played the most critical part.
Though Toma and Harriet fell instantly for each other through some coincidental acquaintances in Naples in 1908 and in New York in 1914, their affair were not to last as they would want it. Harriet, being a daughter of a magnate whose iron making business was failing, and subsequently the heiress to that enterprise had to marry a man that her father thinks would save their dwindling fortune. Toma on the other side would do everything just to save their love.
The main characters have some aspects that in a subjective point of view and how Lawrence had presented them in his novel would render us positive and negative parts.
Toma, the lightning keeper, an icon of nearly miserable beginnings of immigrating European workers in search of an industrial nest for the working class in America, away from the backward economies of eastern European semi-colonies, showed how, despite his genius, a working man cannot escape his pre-fitted gear in the industrial chain.
Truly, he being of proletarian origin has to struggle hard in the complicated world of machines and become less than half a machine himself. It was in 1916 when the moment came for Toma to show his virtuoso in the world of sciences. He excelled well in the industry as the main brain of the General Electric Corporation’s drive to find an alternative energy for the country and his brilliance was a commodity (Murkof, 2006).
However, his motives were still based on his will to get Harriet back whatever it would take. Only, that he knows, by becoming a part of Harriet’s world will he be able to win her from her obligations to her family (Lawrence, 2006, p. 154). With the exception of his sheer brilliance in mechanical works, he was still a part of the mob of toilers. Thus the main male character had drifted from the callous tale of his class and retreated to a striving lover.
So it was revealed that Toma’s personality is a betrayal of the social class he belongs to. It has been stated that his personality, being an exact representation of the struggles of the working men at that time, completely depicted the place he was strained to take in the hierarchy of the classes in the society has delivered the very essence of his kind but in the end it was the primacy of emotional attachment to a woman that weighed in.
Harriet’s actions to save their iron mill were quite laudable. She took the risk of having to live with the man she did not love but would give them the security for their industry and to give in to her father’s wishes – typical for enterprising families in that age (Lawrence, 2006, p. 36).
The main female character is somewhat a little stalwart since she has readily recognized the need to follow her father’s request and the impending danger to the enterprise she was about to takeover. With the many twists in her affair with Toma and their separation due to the events that went just in time that they about to give the story a “lived happily ever after” ending, Harriet’s character can be seen as one which can be inspiring to women.
In contrast to Toma’s character, Harriet revolves around the inner circle of the industrial elite, talking the language of capital and profit (Lawrence, 2006, p.12). By marrying Fowler Truscott, a wealthy businessman in Beecher’s Bridge, she has faithfully accepted her role as the only salvation of the Bigelow iron mill, setting aside what could have a passionate affection for the boy she met in Naples who fell in love with her the moment their eyes held each other captive. As the female main character, her position in the story was still pictured as the weaker sex, the submissive opposite of the ever gallant man – one that can be sold or given in exchange for a family’s honor or in their case, economic interest.
While gliding at the pinnacle of the entrepreneurs’ day dream, Harriet opens herself to Toma’s quest to fight for their love, withdrawn from her own world, forged a dangerous union with the man below their social stratum. She was like a goddess condescending herself to meet the lowliness of a mortal.
One would say that the main characters’ partnership was one that represents the irreconcilable characters of the exploiter and the exploited, laborer and capitalist. Yet, indeed in love, that social obstacle that has separated them would be a fuel that would fire their passion to strive more. They had their encouraging sides and also the disheartening.
There it lays a carefully presented machinery of the novel – the main characters that had such distinctiveness that either made the novel a barrage of words or a concoction of love tales, scientific and technical rhymes fitted together. The lightning keeper made the readers see how a worker’s mind works, explored the genius in the most common of men, felt the love he had to a woman held distant by her place in the society.