Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sabbath Lull

Journal No. 1
English 48B
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I Chose: Bret Harte

From the short story "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"

I. "There was a Sabbath lull in the air, which, in a settlement unused to Sabbath influences, looked ominous."

II. Bret Harte starts his story with a description of a gambler entering the streets of a "morally changed" town. He is looking around and noticing that people have stopped talking once he has approached. The quote above is describing the feeling about the town as he walks down the street.

III. I absolutely LOVE this quote. This quote gave me a real giggle when I first read the story (as you know, it is in the first paragraph). This is just so funny to me. The way that Harte uses such a "moral" connotation for his seedy character's observation as he leaves a poker game is brilliant. Harte insists that the story be taken lightly just by using such a teasing tone. He assumes that the readers of this c.1869 story are indeed very moral and do attend church "religiously" (pun intended, of course). His readers almost poke fun back at him by not realizing that Harte is indeed writing this story with tongue solidly lodged in cheek for the duration. I think that Harte may have had higher aspirations for his readers than what they were able to deliver.

This wonderful quote just begins to paint a picture of a town that is indeed lacking moral value. The town, after all, did just hand over its winnings to Mr. John Oakhurst. When I read this, I picture a black-clad man, wearing chaps and spurs, just coming out the front door of a building with a sign over the top: Tom's Saloon. As Mr. Oakhurst comes out the front door, he stops and lights a hand-rolled cigarette. He is about to shake out his match when under the brim of his hat, he catches sight of several clusters of usually mischievious men, all looking his way and whispering. Mr. Oakhurst continues to shake out the match, his pause only discernable if one was looking for it. As he walks down the street, he catches glimpses of whispering mouths and shadows of movement as people decide whether to scatter or just to cease all conversation. This is when Mr. Oakhurst observes, "There was a Sabbath lull in the air, which, in a settlement unused to Sabbath influences, looked ominous."


Scott said...

20 points. It is amusing how the moral climate of a community often has so little to do with morality.