What is the cultural literary environment around the time Bret Harte wrote the short story "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Bret Harte wrote his California gold mine short stories, such as "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," he was following along in a tradition that had been established by his literary predecessors and contempories. As an illustration, both Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mark Twain addressed their literary works to the injustice of dogmatic and/or hypocritical society imposing artificial constraints upon citizens. Hawthorne's most famous work of this nature, set in the colonial era, is The Scarlet Letter. Mark Twain famously addressed the same theme set in a different time period in The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin. Tyranny from within the community was a great concern and one which many writers undertook to examine including others like Herman Melville and Henry James. In "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," Bret Harte exposes the hypocritical tyranny of the gold rush town of Poker Flat as they vote to exile a gambler--an act of revenge for winning their money--and prostitutes in the winter storm season, while the behavior of these undesirables prove that they have hearts of compassion capable of the ultimate in altruism, kindness and sacrifice.

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The Outcasts of Poker Flat

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