playing card, a two of clubs, in the center next to a hunting knife

The Outcasts of Poker Flat

by Bret Harte

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Harte explains that the outcasts are expelled from Poker Flat by a "secret committee." Research the prevalence of vigilante justice in the American West and attempt to determine the extent to which such activities were viewed as a necessary element of the settlement process.

Although Harte is often described as a "frontier humorist," this story reads as a tragedy. Discuss how a writer may appeal to conflicting emotions, and identify other authors who embrace a similar contradiction in style.

Considering the historical events of the 1860s, what messages in Harte's story would have been considered controversial to readers in that era?

Read "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" by Harte's protégé, Mark Twain. Discuss possible influences of Harte's writing on Twain's. Which story do you like better, and why?

Think of some recent Western movies, television shows, or books. Do any of the characters in them remind you of the characters in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat?” Write an essay comparing and contrasting characters in contemporary Western stories to those in stories from the nineteenth century.

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