What are the symbols in Bret Harte's "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"?
Two of the most important symbols in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" are the town of Poker Flat itself and the group of "objectionable characters" that it sends out into the wilderness. These two groups are symbols of the New West against the Old West.
For example, Harte tell us that "Poker Flat was 'after somebody'" because "it had lately suffered the loss of several thousand dollars, two valuable horses, and a prominent citizen." Harte's story is set at a time when California mining towns were beginning to evolve from rough, uncivilized collections of people to towns in which the inhabitants wanted order, law, acceptable social behavior--in other words, some form of a civilized society. Poker Flat has reached a point at which the Old West, represented by lawlessness and immoral behavior, is no longer to be tolerated, and so the town casts out those who do not fit properly into a new form of civilization.
The group of outcasts--a prostitute, a drunkard, an anti-social old woman, and...
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