Style and Technique
Although some modern commentators have complained that “Tennessee’s Partner” strains credibility and borders on the maudlin, it remains one of the best pieces of short fiction to come out of the western, local-color tradition in which Harte played such an important part. Its sentimentality is balanced by the sort of rawboned, understated humor, borrowed from the tall-tale oral tradition, that marks the stories of Harte’s contemporary and one-time acolyte, Mark Twain. Harte uses a variety of comic elements, such as malapropisms, verbal irony, and inappropriate tone, to good effect, offsetting the sentimentality that otherwise might overburden the reader.
By employing an unidentified narrator who plays no other role in the story, Harte also distances the reader from the inward feelings and thoughts of his main character, making a psychological probing of his consciousness impossible. The narrator offers no explanation for the friendship of Tennessee and his partner; it is just there, inexplicable and mysterious. A simple, uncultured man, Tennessee’s Partner cannot articulate his feelings, except, by implication, in his artless but quaint funeral oration and his rhapsodic meandering in his death throes. Only the narrator, who is the thinly veiled author, and Judge Lynch are articulate. In fact, the story’s main flaw is perhaps the tendency of the author to editorialize, to orchestrate the reader’s feelings in an attempt to evoke pathos. Harte...
(The entire section is 402 words.)