Name Module Instructor Date The Outcasts of Poker Flat by Bret Harte: Analyzing the Inspirations from the Real Tragedy of Donner Party Author Bret Harte, an American author from the late 19th century, was an absolute genius whose short stories centered on the early Californian life that he was well acquainted with…
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I will try to examine the similarities and differences between the two and how possibly the incident could have inspired the author to develop his own literary creation, which is considered a classic today. The conclusion of this research will be based on my observation. Francis Brett Harte was born in Albany New York on the 25th of August, 1836. He moved to California when his father died in 1853.His initial exposure was through a weekly newspaper: he did editing and writing for Northern California. Harte started contributing his articles and short stories to the journal The Golden Era under the name The Bohemian or Bret. His freelance writing flourished when he started working as a superintendent’s secretary of the United States Mint. Californian mining camp was his favorite theme and is often found in many of his works. The Lost Galleon and Other Tales (1867) is considered to be his first major work. He died of throat cancer in the year 1902 on May 5th ("Bret Harte"). The story of “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” centers around four characters: Gambler John Oakhurst; two prostitutes, The Duchess and Mother Shipton; and a drunkard robber Uncle Billy, who were labeled as immoral and were outcast from Poker Flat on the 23rd November, 1850 (Bret 19-21). They decided to head towards Sandy Bar, another town. They meet Tom Simson and his fifteen-year old lover Piney Woods, who ran away to get married at Poker Flat. The travelers took shelter in a camp; Uncle Billy ditched them by sensing the arrival of a snow storm and ran away with their horses and mules. Mother Shipten starved herself to death while saving the food for Piney. Tom goes to Poker Flat to seek help, being advised by Oakhurst. The Law of Poker Flat, upon reaching the site, discovered the bodies of two women hugging in a peaceful repose. Bret clearly identifies the weakest member of the outcast ones, The Gambler, who commits suicide by shooting himself as his body lies beneath a tree with his tragic fate (Bret 34-42). The tragedy of Donner Party is a real incident involving a group of 89 emigrants headed by Jacob and George Donner, who left Springfield in an attempt to discover a shorter route to California. They were ditched by their trail guide, who fled away without any trail marks. They surpassed the time to cross the Nevada Mountains, encountered heavy snowfall and were trapped for several days. They circumstances eventually made them resort to cannibalism in order to survive (Daniel "Log Entries for April, 1847"). The Donner Party Diary has been compiled by Daniel Rosen, where in the April log, he mentions, “It is likely that the Donner children survived by eating the flesh of Jacob Donner” (Daniel "Log Entries for April, 1847"). It is beyond any doubts that the tragedy might have inspired Bret to develop a plot where people are trapped in a snowstorm and are unable to complete their journey. Considering the similarities in the story, a fellow member ran away with their mules while in the real incident, the Donner members were ditched by their trail guide, who misguided them. However, in a documentary, the writer Harold Schindler blames the emigrants for taking such a risky decision of travelling, which turned out to be disastrous. It was the greed, ambitions and hope for a better life that trapped
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