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Historical Context in The Outcasts of Poker Flat

“The Outcasts of Poker Flat” has been associated with the literary movement regional realism. Regional realism was largely situated in the United States, and concerned fictional stories set in real places. Poker Flats was a real town in Sierra County California during the gold rush years. While Harte’s depiction of this puritanical pioneer town is undoubtedly fictional, it was inspired by this real-life town in northern California.

Historical Context Examples in The Outcasts of Poker Flat:

The Outcasts of Poker Flat

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"Covenanter's swing..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

The Covenanters were a group of Scottish Presbyterians who signed what is referred to as the “National Covenant” in 1638. The goal of this covenant was to support religious freedom and autonomy for the Church of Scotland, which they thought to be threatened by King Charles I and the rest of the Stuart royal house. Some of the Covenanters immigrated to North America where they became known as “reformed Presbyterians” who were passionate and outspoken about their cause. The “Covenanter’s swing” that the narrator mentions here is alluding to these characteristics. The outcasts are inspired to sing the hymns not because of any religious beliefs, but because of the spirited nature of the performance.

"local prejudice..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

“The Outcasts of Poker Flat” has been associated with “regional-realism,” a literary movement popular in American literature during the time of the story’s publication. Regional-realism concerns itself with the local cultural and social customs of a particular area: in this case, the California Gold Rush region. What Harte highlights about the “Wild West” is the prejudice that the “locals” have towards “outsiders,” referring to them as strangers. The townspeople use Mr. Oakhurst status as an immigrant from another town as another means to justify his exile.

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