Bret Harte, The Luck of Roaring Camp (1870)
- Bret Harte (1836-1902) is known today as one of the classic writers of Western pulp fiction, a genre that flourished with the dime novel. Harte's earlier writings, like "The Luck of Roaring Camp" and Other Stories (1870), are widely considered classics not only of American popular culture but of American literature. Drawing on his own experiences in California's gold mining camps, Harte captures authentic stories which became more than just local color writing; his stories of this period spawned an explosion of regional writing. We will be reading selections from this collection: "The Luck of Roaring Camp," "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," and "Tennessee's Partner."
- Questions to Think About:
- 1) What are the characteristics which identify the Western story as a genre? To answer this, refer to the selected reading from Richard Slotkin's Gunfighter Nation. What are the types of characters which appear in the Western story? What do they represent?
- 2) One of the most important aspects of the Western is the way in which Westerns as a genre reflect (and challenge) the founding story of the American nation. What is so "American" about the Western story genre? What values do they reflect? What internal struggles do they bury or alleviate and which do they accentuate in favor of establishing a more cohesive and hegemonic national identity?
- 3) How do Harte's stories reflect the realities of the California gold rush? What were the anxieties and hopes associated with that moment in American experience?
- 4) What are the Frontier landscapes represented in Harte's stories? Are they different from those which you have seen represented in John Ford's Western films? Do they share any characteristics with those later, mythic Western vistas? Who is larger in Harte's stories, the landscapes or the people on them? Who is in the landscape and who is simply on it?
- 5) Richard Slotkin argues that central to the myth of the frontier is the maintenance of borders. What kind of borders are drawn and maintained in Harte's stories? How are they represented? Who crosses them and why?
- 6) Finally, the Western story is perhaps the most "masculine" of all American story genres (with the possible exception of the war story). What are the images of masculinity presented in Harte's stories? The readership for the Western story was predominately male, and men drew from the stories examples of ways of being male. What were those examples?
Further resources and readings:
- The Western Literature Association's A Literary History of the American West
Prepared by Professor Catherine Lavender for Honors 502 (American Frontiers and Borderlands), Department of History, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York. Send email to email@example.com
Last modified: Saturday, 19 August 2000.