Tennessee's Partner

by Bret Harte

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

There are two main characters in Bret Harte’s short story "Tennessee's Partner." This story about friendship centers on Tennessee and his partner, who is only referred to as "Tennessee’s Partner" throughout the story. The fact that we only know Tennessee’s friend by this name is fitting, because this is a story of loyalty and a friendship which endures many trials, and even death.

In addition to Tennessee and Tennessee’s Partner, the townspeople play a minor, yet significant role in the story. Against the attitudes and behavior of the townspeople, which include hating Tennessee, arresting him for robbery, and then witnessing his death, we can contrast Tennessee’s Partner’s pure and unconditional friendship. Tennessee steals his partner’s wife, and yet, Tennessee’s Partner not only forgives him, he is happy to welcome him back to town when he returns. The townspeople are eager to see a fight and are disappointed by their tender reunion. Judge Lynch also plays an important role. Not only is he responsible for the apprehension of Tennessee after Tennessee tried to escape his sentence, but he is the one who sentences Tennessee to death. He is brave and yet fearful of Tennessee, and this also provides an interesting contrast to the equal friendship which Tennessee and his partner have. When Tennessee is put to death, it is Tennessee’s Partner who claims and buries his body, then meets him on his own deathbed.

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