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Literary Devices in The Outcasts of Poker Flat

Regional realism was largely situated in the United States and concerned fictional stories set in real places. Harte employs regional realism with graphic imagery of the town and its surrounding wilderness. In addition, the characters speak in the typical vernacular of the region, adopting realistic mannerisms and vocabulary. “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” also adopts elements of the American Western or the "Wild Wild West" genre when discussing the townspeople's’ aversion to outsiders.

Literary Devices Examples in The Outcasts of Poker Flat:

The Outcasts of Poker Flat

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"could scarcely have told from the equal peace that dwelt upon them which was she that had sinned..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

The “white-winged birds” here are doves, typically associated with innocence, unity, and purity. The color white is often associated with similar characteristics, and these two women surrounded by snow contributes to a tone of “peace.” Piney Woods and the Duchess look so peaceful and innocent lying close together in the snow that the townspeople “could scarcely tell” them apart. This final peaceful image of the death supports the notion that our morality is not easily measured by our life choices. Piney Woods and the Duchess are both good people, and their position in death reminds both the townspeople and the reader of this.

"You've starved yourself..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

Mother Shipton’s act of selflessness contributes to the theme that the boundary between “moral” and “immoral” is not black and white, nor very easily defined. In the beginning of the story, Mother Shipton is described from the eyes of the townspeople: she is a prostitute that they look down on—worthy only of being cast out. Mother Shipton has her guard up once she is exiled, but gradually she begins to let it down, eventually placing the needs of others above her own. Harte paints the “moral” and the “immoral” as a kind of spectrum and all the characters fall at different places on that spectrum throughout the story.

"current vernacular of Sandy Bar..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

One of the goals of the literary genre regional-realism is to realistically depict the particular vernacular of a certain region. Mr. Oakhurst narrates Homer’s Iliad for the group, but he does so in his own vernacular and also based on Alexander Pope’s 18th-century translation. Despite these many translations, Mr. Oakhurst’s narration is still successful for his companions and “Homeric demigods again walked the earth.” Hart illustrates that the story is no lesser for being translated and morphed into local cultural dialects. The meaning still prevails and the outcasts are able to immerse themselves in ancient Greek mythology to pass their time.

"made a devoted slave of Tom Simson..."   (The Outcasts of Poker Flat)

The mention of gambling here draws an immediate comparison to Tom Simson and Mr. Oakhurst. However, note that Tom Simson is depicted as someone who could not even gamble if he wanted to. Though this lack of experience in gambling might make Tom seem even more “innocent” or “moral” than Mr. Oakhurst, the narrator reminds us of Mr. Oakhurst’s benevolence when Mr. Oakhurst gives Tom Simson all the money that he lost. Tom Simson is innocent, but Mr. Oakhurst does not take advantage of this. Comparing these two characters reinforces Mr. Oakhurst’s ethical nature.

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