What story elements of "The Outcasts of Poker Flats" make it regional fiction?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The term Regionalism usually refers to the sketch or short story that focuses on specific features of a particular region.  These features of a region are often type characters, dialects, history, customs,and landscape.  "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" by Bret Harte is considered a work of regional fiction because it deals with characters who are typical of the Wild West:  the gambler, the madam of the whore house, a prostitute, and the town drunkard and low-life. In addition, Harte's story is regional literature because it depicts the distinctive qualities of its people and possesses a realistic depiction of the environment.

During the nineteenth century, as the United States grew and became more diversified, the American public became curious about the people and their style of life in other areas of the country, and regional literature satisfied this curiosity. The very human and flawed characters of Harte's story provide interest to the reader of regional fiction. The gambler, for instance, is of interest because he is a good, square-dealing man who is charitable. When he proves to be the unlucky hero of the story, the reader is not surprised.  Likewise, Mother Shipton reveals a tender and caring nature as she starves in order to save Piney. Even the selfish Duchess exhibits redeeming characteristics as she, too, nurtures Piney. John Oakhurst, the hero of Harte's story, reveals himself to be an honest, square-dealing gentleman. For instance, he discourages the "Innocent" from delaying with his group,

He endeavored to dissuade Tom Simson from delaying further....He even pointed out the fact that there was no provision, nor means of making a camp. But, unluckily, the Innocent met this objection....

The setting of "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" is California during the California Gold Rush. The locales are not called towns, but camps. The Sierra Nevada mountains hover between these camps, and this is the situation of Poker Flat and Sandy Bar, the next camp. The outcasts are caught in a snowstorm on the mountain, and when the unconscionable low-life Uncle Billy absconds with the mules and horses and some of the provisions, the others are stranded and become victims of the terrain. Ever the loner, Oakhurst walks out to the gulch and commits suicide because he knows his luck has run out.

karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Works of regionalism were most popular in the United States during the late 19th-century. Authors from various regions of the country wrote pieces that painted vivid pictures of the areas in which their works were set. For example, Kate Chopin wrote short stories and a novel set in the American South (namely, Louisiana); in those texts, she includes French language and dialect, as well as imagery that describes the environment of New Orleans, the Gulf of Mexico, and surrounding areas in detail. Sarah Orne Jewett wrote about natural settings of the Northeast. Regionalist works are distinguished by their focus on setting and the social norms and mannerisms of a specific place.

Bret Harte set his works in the American West, not long after American citizens began to move west, some in pursuit of riches along with the California Gold Rush of 1849. His famous story "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" replicates details of the mid-19th-century American West, offering a realistic portrayal of life in that region.

One element we often see in depictions of the American West in this time period is a general lawlessness or proliferation of violence. In "Poker Flat," the narrator starts by telling us that the settlement is experiencing "a spasm of virtuous reaction" in the wake of another "lawless" act that seems to be common in the town. Further, the first character introduced is Oakhurst, who is a gambler; the West attracted gamblers and profiteers hoping to find gold in California. In terms of physical location, the camp is described as being near a series of "precipices," which fits with the mountainous terrain of the region.

The inclusion of characters, themes, and descriptions linked to the American West make "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" a regional short story.

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The Outcasts of Poker Flat

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