Hence, one can imagine the incongruity of a newborn baby in an assembly of this sort. Yet, the birth of the baby (whose mother expires immediately after delivery), has a profound transformative effect on the entire community. This disparate group of people of volatile dispositions and hostile temperaments undergo a refreshing transformation. They begin to show a maternal interior beneath their rough exterior. Starting from their personal hygiene habits to their addictions to liquor and cigarettes, they give up these habits so as to be allowed near the baby. ‘Stumpy’, the chosen guardian of the baby in the sad absence of his mother, has set these standards out of his protectiveness and love for the baby – christened by the Roaring Camp community as ‘Tommy Luck’. Each member of the community, in their own special way, showers a lot of love and attention upon Luck. He suddenly creates a new centrality to their erstwhile unfocussed lives. Luck brings them joy and cherish that they seldom got elsewhere. Harte’s masterful crafting of these inner transformations among the group of vagabonds is a proof of his lofty aspiration on their behalf. Harte is articulating in an artistically satisfying manner, how people from the most disadvantaged social positions can still raise their game and gain respectability. The author is also showing that despite poverty and lack of privilege, people can still show noble virtues.
The same celebration of the virtues that the underprivileged are capable of showing is evidenced in the short story Miggles. Here too, the central female character displays remarkable qualities despite her encumbrances. The heart-rending love of the beautiful Miggles toward the paralytic Jim is effectively captured by Harte. Miggles’ affinity toward wildlife and her taming of a Grizzly bear Joaquin and a magpie exemplifies what a free spirit she is. Living in near wilderness with only the local foresters to aid her, she creates liveliness by interacting with Jim, and the two animals. What would appear a desolate and depressing existence for most people was mastered and enjoyed by the indomitable Miggles. She’d even sold off her lucrative salon business to be able to nurse Jim round the clock. In essence, Miggles so much character without making any complaints.
Finally, putting Harte’s unique narrative perspectives in socio-historical context, the following observations are salient. Harte was perhaps aided in his thought and style by the major socio-political currents sweeping the New World at the time. In the wake of, and the conclusion of, the Civil War, many interesting developments took place in American society. African Americans finally gained some political parity, however nominal this might prove to be; and the nation was now united from North to South, set to consolidate its strength economically. These changes were the right foil for an author of Harte’s vision and talents. Harte’s celebration of the lives of the underclass was as pioneering a feat of authorship as was the efforts of new settlers in pushing American frontiers further west.
Harte, Bret. Tennessee’s Partner, retrieved from http://www.classicreader.com/book/813/1/ on 17th October, 2012.
Harte, Bret. Miggles, retrieved from http://www.classicreader.com/book/812/1/ on 17th October, 2012.
Harte, Bret Francis. The Luck of Roaring Camp, first published in 1917, retrieved from http://www.bartleby.com/310/4/1 on 14th September, 2012.