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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
October, according to the narrator, is an interesting month for boys. While months like June are better, it’s not all bad because school has been in session for a month, and things are getting easier. Moreover, though, Halloween is at the end of the month, so boys spend time planning their costumes for the YMCA party on October 31. One October, Halloween comes early for Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, two boys who are both about to turn fourteen. That year, Halloween arrives three hours after midnight on October 24. It was that October, the text mentions, that the boys truly grow up and are never so young again.
The prologue establishes the idea that it is fall, a season of looming darkness. The seasons are described through a boy’s eyes, allowing readers to immediately connect with Will and Jim and feel the youth the story holds. It is possible, through this early description, to see the excitement they anticipate through both Halloween and their birthdays. It is also, however, immediately possible, to sense the ominous tone in the text. The narrator already previews the idea that the boys will lose their youth.
In the first chapter, we meet the two main characters, Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway, as they are lying together on Will's front lawn. It is a cloudy October day in Green Town, Illinois. Jim is described as having chestnut hair and green eyes. Will has blond hair and blue eyes. A lightning rod salesman is making his way door-to-door throughout the town. He notices the boys and stops to talk with them. After ascertaining that their parents aren't home and they have no money themselves, he asks their names.
Will replies quickly and truthfully. Jim considers lying to the man, but ends up telling him the truth. Already differences between the two boys' personalities are being established. The salesman comments on the abnormality of Jim's last name, and Will proudly relates the story of their births to the salesman. Will was born one minute before midnight on October 30. Jim was born one minute after midnight on October 31. Bradbury mentions it is a story the boys have proudly told all of their lives. After asking about the boys' financial state again, the lightning rod salesman hands them a free lightning rod, and tells them that lightning will strike one of their houses. Will immediately comments on the weight of the lightning rod. Jim studies it for a moment and questions its various cultural markings. He notices both Egyptian and Phoenician markings. The salesman answers Jim's question by revealing his name, Tom Fury, then discussing the idea that storms occur in all cultures, and for the rod to "communicate" properly with the storm, it must have languages of various cultures. The salesman assures the boys, at the prompting of Jim's questions, that not only will a large storm will definitely strike their town tonight, it will certainly strike one of their homes. Will begs to know which one, and after touching both of the houses, the salesman indicates that it will strike Jim's home. Will feels a bit dejected, but Jim is quite proud. The salesman hurries on his way, leaving Jim and Will.
Will pushes Jim to get the ladder and the nails to hang the rod, but Jim suggests that hanging the lightning rod would spoil the adventure of being struck by lightning. As Will gathers the necessary materials, Jim doesn't move. Only after Will reminds Jim that his mother will also be burnt if lighting strikes the house does Jim begin to help Will. As the chapter ends, thunder sounds in the distance.
The first chapter sets the agitated tone that we will feel for the rest of the story. The storm mentioned in the chapter foreshadows the uneasiness presented to us throughout the text. The fact that the markings on the lightning rod are multi-cultural insinuates that storms, mayhem, and evil cross cultural boundaries.
This chapter also sets up much of the conflict between the boys' personalities. Will was born one minute before midnight on October 30. Bradbury refers to his birth as being in the "light." Jim was born one minute after midnight on October 31. Jim's birth is referred to as being in the "dark." These hue adjectives will be used throughout the novel and characterize the boys' personalities. Jim has a tendency to be more mischievous. He is starving for adventure on a constant basis. More than anything, Jim wants to know "why," and "what if" for everything. Jim looks at hidden details. Will leans toward surface issues. Jim has a mature quality that Will doesn't. Above all, though, Will is happy with who he is, and Jim isn't. From this point forward in the novel, these personality divisions will grow.
The lightning rod salesman is quite representative of the other adults we meet in the book. He seems to remember his childhood and connect with the boys on that basis. He wants to impress and scare the boys. He enjoys the youth the boys represent.