What is the tone toward Poker Flat's secret committe and its improper persons?
"The Outcasts of Poker Flat" is set near a California mining community during November of 1850. Experimenting with the effectiveness of vigilante justice, the residents of Poker Flat hope to improve the town by expelling a group of undesirables.
Among these objectionable characters are professional gambler John Oakhurst; a prostitute known as Duchess; her madam. Mother Shipton; and Uncle Billy, the town drunkard and a suspected thief. The four outcasts are described as "improper persons," and their initial actions suggest that, except for Oakhurst, they are foul-mouthed, lazy, and prone to drunkenness. The foursome is escorted to the edge of Poker Flat and "forbidden to return at die peril of their lives."
Although Harte's story is essentially a tragedy, the narrative contains moments of humor. Rather than the story containing a humorous character per se, the story's levity arises from the narrator's understatement and sometimes condescending tone towards the characters. As an example, the narrator comments that "notwithstanding some difficulties attending the manipulation of this instrument, Piney Woods managed to pluck several reluctant melodies from its keys."
Elsewhere, the narrator evaluates Tom's recitation skills by stating he had “thoroughly mastered the argument and fairly forgotten the words." Critics often cited Harte's ability to balance the tragic and the comic as one of his strongest skills as a writer.