Who are the intended readers of "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"? Does the writer direct the work toward a particular group or a general readership?
It is interesting to note that Bret Harte launched the career of the great humorist Mark Twain, especially in light of the irony that contemporary readers of his failed to find the humor in his story, "The Outcasts of Poker Flat." Critic Jason Pierce notes the Spectator praised Harte's originality of characters, but deplored his "improper characters." It is only the modern reader who has become desensitized toward such characters from having watched westerns or having read western novels by such writers as Louis L'Amour.
Then, too, the reception of Harte's short story may have been cool because of the overtone of religious parody:
In point of fact, Poker Flat was “after somebody.” It had lately suffered the loss of several thousand dollars, two valuable horses, and a prominent citizen. It was experiencing a spasm of virtuous reaction, quite as lawless and ungovernable as any of the acts that had provoked it. A secret committee had determined to rid the town of all improper persons. This was done...temporarily in the banishment of certain other objectionable characters.
Harte punctures the moralism of the members of Poker Flat who ostracize the marginal members of the town. With a certain sentimentalism, Harte portrays the gambler as a man of a certain integrity and even nobility. Likewise, his portrayal of Mother Shipton presents another noble nature. So, while the good, Christian people of Poker Flat run their undesirables out of time, the hypocrisy of these townspeople is exposed.
While Harte's story was rejected by some, it was, however, popular among many people out East who enjoyed reading regional literature with its "local color." Using the western dialect and depicting colorful characters, Harte depicts the habits, speech, appearance, customs, and beliefs of people from the West.