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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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8. Regional Realism   

8. Regional

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Activities: Author Activities

Bret Harte - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: Who are the central characters in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"? How do they construct or participate in stereotypes about characters from the Old West? How do they challenge these stereotypes?

  2. Context: Bret Harte was a mentor to Mark Twain, giving him some of his first writing assignments and, according to Twain, teaching him a great deal about his craft: "He trimmed and schooled me patiently until he changed me from an awkward utterer of coarse grotesqueness to a writer of paragraphs and chapters." Later, however, Twain attacked Harte's work as overly romantic, unbelievable, and repetitive. How is Harte's work similar to Twain's? What ideals and narrative strategies do they share? How are they different?

  3. Exploration: Compare the plot and characters of "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" to the plot and characters of one or more Western movies (Stagecoach, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Unforgiven, or The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, for example). How do subsequent American portraits of the Old West draw from Harte's depictions? What familiar ideas about the Old West seem to start in Harte's work?

  4. Exploration: In the video for Unit 12 you will encounter two more key sentimental scenes in realist fiction: the breast-feeding of the dying man by Rose of Sharon in The Grapes of Wrath and the poisoning of Alejo by crop dusters. How do these compare to Mother Shipton's self-sacrifice in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"? How do you see the relationship between sentimentality and realism?

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