In A Vein of Riches, told from an omniscient point of view, Knowles again takes as his protagonist a young man whose received views are tested by experience. Knowles sets his novel in Middleburg, West Virginia, the center of a coal boom and the home of oil barons whose castles and manors rival those of their counterparts in railroads and steel. While the story begins in 1909, the pivotal event in the novel occurs on April 1, 1919, when the coal miners strike against the owners of the mines.
Knowles begins A Vein of Riches by delineating the positions of the leading families in Middleburg and by satirizing the captains of industry.
Minnie Catherwood, wife of one of the leading coal mine owners, is somewhat of an anomaly in her set, for she alone seems bored with her meaningless existence. Looking for something more than her opium-laced tonics, she turns to religion and finds salvation through the Reverend Roanoke, an African American itinerant minister who serves the impoverished and exploited coal miners in Bennettown. When she first visits Bennettown, her eyes are opened to the wretched existence of the workers, and she comes to understand that Bennettown is a “sealed world,” one apart from Middleburg. When she attempts to discuss the miners’ plight with Clarkson, her husband, he indulgently treats her like a pet dog and pays the Reverend Roanoke to leave the area.
Her son, Lyle, also has questions about the coal-mining policies, especially the “Yellow Dog” contracts and the forced evictions, and Clarkson suspects that his son is...
(The entire section is 651 words.)