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Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Because Lightning Bug focuses on lost love and the desire to restore that love, Harington uses metaphors of marriage and mating to express the reconciliations of differences. The lightning bug of the title is Latha Bourne, a beautiful unmarried, thirty-eight-year-old woman who, in July 1939—the time of the novel's plot—is the postmistress of Stay More, and, as the narrator says, "the heroine, the demigoddess, of this world," of, that is, the world of the novel. Like the lightning bug, whose flashes signal a desire for mating, Latha calls forth love.

Latha has two main lovers. One is Every Dill, her childhood sweetheart whom Latha believes she has not seen since eighteen years ago when he raped her and robbed the Stay More bank. The other is the five-year-old Donald or "Dawny," as all the folks in Stay More call him, who is visiting his Aunt and Uncle Murrison for the summer. Every evening Dawny comes to the front porch of Latha's general store and sits on the porch swing with her to hear her tell ghost stories, for Latha is an exquisite teller of ghost stories.

Every's return to Stay More as a preacher intent on conducting a revival meeting triggers the action of the novel's plot. It revives Latha's and Every's love for each other, but before they can marry, they must reconcile their different beliefs. As a preacher Every believes he cannot have sexual intercourse with Latha until they marry, but Latha will not marry until she and Every have sexual intercourse. Since this story is "a happy one," they find a way to honor their beliefs, to marry, and, finally, to share their beliefs. As the narrator tells us, "she will make him superstitious, he will make her religious."

Harington also performed another type of "marriage" when he created the narrator's voice. In that voice, he joined two periods of time—1939, when Dawny experiences both the thrill of Latha's attention, and the loss of that love when Every returns; and 1969 when the middle-aged Donald narrates the story of desire for the restoration of Latha's love and of the world that was his childhood.

These literal and symbolic marriages are examples of reconciliation between opposites, and Harington extends the idea of marriage when he demonstrates through his creation of Latha and his methods of narration the "marriage" of teller and listener, writer and reader. The narrator is, as he describes himself near the end of his story, Latha's "lover and creator." As a character in a work of fiction , Latha is that "airy nothing," to which, in a labor of love, Harington's imagination and pen...

(The entire section is 679 words.)