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January Week 3

Teen Reader

The Luck of Roaring Camp

“The Luck of Roaring Camp” (1868)

“The Luck of Roaring Camp” (Text Version)

“The Luck of Roaring Camp” (Audio Version)

“The Luck of Roaring Camp”

The story takes place in a small struggling mining town located in the foothills of the California mountains at the time of the gold rush. The camp is suffering from a long string of bad luck. With only one woman in their midst, it seems as though the miners have no future. However, the tide turns when a small boy is born.

Bret Harte

Bret Harte

Bret Harte (born August 25, 1836, Albany, New York, U.S.—died May 5, 1902, London, England), American writer who helped create the local-colour school in American fiction.

Harte’s family settled in New York City and Brooklyn in 1845. His education was spotty and irregular, but he inherited a love of books and managed to get some verses published at age 11. In 1854 he left for California and went into mining country on a brief trip that legend has expanded into a lengthy participation in, and intimate knowledge of, camp life. In 1857 he was employed by the Northern Californian, a weekly paper. There his support of Indians and Mexicans proved unpopular; after a massacre of Indians in 1860, which he editorially deplored, he found it advisable to leave town.

Returning to San Francisco, he was married and began to write for the Golden Era, which published the first of his Condensed Novels, brilliant parodies of James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, and others. He then became a clerk in the U.S. branch mint, a job that allowed freedom for editorship of the Californian, for which he engaged Mark Twain to write weekly articles.

In 1868, after publishing a series of Spanish legends akin to Washington Irving’s Alhambra, he was named editor of the Overland Monthly. For it he wrote “The Luck of Roaring Camp” and “The Outcasts of Poker Flat.” Following The Luck of Roaring Camp, and Other Sketches (1870), he found himself world famous.

 “The Luck of Roaring Camp” Discussion Questions

1.) How  and why might this story be considered a "tall tale" of the western frontier?

2.) Do you see this story as "a retelling of the gospel story of the Nativity"? 

3.) How do stories like this one “create” the ‘literary West’? 

4.) Some critics argue that since Harte was raised in an educated family from the East, he “brings a full portfolio of cultural experience to the wilds, and playfully and earnestly he experiments with applying those [Eastern] allusions, metaphors, and tropes to the description of people and situations that are often ‘off the map,’ fundamentally different from the experiences of his [Eastern] audience.” Do you see his story this way, or not? 

5.) Another critic maintains that “Harte can also be enjoyed as an American writer in the midst of a contest between romanticism and realism: [1] a well-established tradition of sentimental fiction, with high feeling and outbreaks of nobility and valor, and [2] a rising imperative to tell the truth about new places and new varieties of American social life.” Where does this story fit in to this assessment? 

6.) To focus on style and rhetorical strategy, run an eye over the story again, looking for peculiar or glaring comparisons or metaphors -- “a Raphael face,” “Romulus and Remus,” the “Arethusa, Seventy-Four,” “Caliban and Miranda,” “Memnon,” and so on. What is Harte up to here? Showing off? Do these allusions add any interesting dimensions to the narrative? If so, how?

7.) Harte’s stories, and many tales of the West written after his time, often feature deep, wordless bonds between people who choose to live apart, in a vast landscape. Rarely do the people in these relationships explain them well -- or at all. What is the thematic effect of that reticence or silence?

 (Questions from

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