Tennessee's Partner

by Bret Harte

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

"Tennessee's Partner" is an 1869 short story written by American author and poet Bret Harte. It received generally positive reviews; however, most of them came after the story was republished in 1870, as a part of a Harte's collection of short stories titled The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Sketches. The story describes the friendship between two men who have two very different personalities.

"Tennessee's Partner" explores themes such as the meaning of friendship and loyalty and the importance of humor and optimism. It could be argued that the story is divided into four parts. In the first part, we meet Tennessee, the fun and playful gambler, his serious and humorless partner (simply addressed as "Tennessee's partner"), and the partner’s wife. Later on, we learn that Tennessee also fell in love with his partner’s wife and even eloped with her. However, after the cheating wife moves on with yet another man, Tennessee’s partner quickly forgives his buddy, and the two become best friends again.

The second part focuses on the trial of Tennessee, after he has been accused of theft and unlawful use of a weapon. The judge and the jury want to punish Tennessee severely, but his partner remains loyal to him and asks the court to give Tennessee a second chance. He even tries to bribe the judge, but the judge tells him that the law is sacred and that he cannot be corrupted. The judge sentences Tennessee to death by hanging.

The third part describes Tennessee’s funeral. The partner gives a speech in which he describes Tennessee’s life as fun and free and discusses how everything will be different now that his friend is gone. He then buries his partner and refuses help from the people who offer it. After everyone leaves, he sits on Tennessee’s grave, sadly remembering their friendship.

The fourth part describes the partner’s life after his friend’s death. The man basically loses the will the live. His health condition worsens with every passing day, and he feels very sad and melancholic. One night, he dreams of Tennessee and tries to reach out to him. We realize that Tennessee’s partner is about to die and that he will finally be reunited with his friend.

Essentially, this is a story that every person can empathize with. Harte captures the joys and merits of true friendship and the happiness we all feel when we are with our friends. However, he also accurately portrays the emotional state every person experiences when they lose someone dear: the grief and sadness, and the feeling that nothing will ever be the same again.

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