In both the stories “The Outcast of Poker Flat” by Bret Harte and “To Build a Fire” by Jack London, the role of regionalism is very prominent and it plays a very vital role in both stories. If the region of either of these stories were to be changed, then neither of them would work the way the writers intended them to. Although both “The Outcast of Poker Flat” and “To Build a Fire” capture the essence of their regions, one does it better than the other. The role of regionalism is so important to “The Outcast of Poker Flat” for many reasons.
One of which is very simple; if this story took place in a different climate the story wouldn’t work anymore. Seeing as this story takes place in the “dry, cold, bracing air of the Sierras” (Harte, 485) it simply wouldn’t work if it took place in the rain forest or the desert or on an island. The outcasts of Poker Flats died because of the freezing snow. This can’t happen anywhere else. Another example of how regionalism is expressed in “The Outcast of Poker Flat” is the fact that the town is full of gamblers.
In the 1850’s there was a huge gold rush in California so gambling skyrocketed. This is shown in “The Outcast of Poker Flat” and it is very important because gambling is why Mr. Oakhurst is kicked out of town. If this story didn’t take place in California then the gold rush wouldn’t have been a factor so gambling wouldn’t have been so prominent and Mr. Oakhurst wouldn’t have been kicked out of town. “The Outcast of Poker Flat” puts a lot of emphasis on regionalism throughout the story from start to finish. “To Build a Fire” does the same thing but in a sort of different way.
Regionalism in “To Build a Fire” is vital to the story for many reasons. Just like in “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” the main character in the story dies of freezing in the snow and because of this fact this story also wouldn’t work if it took place in a rain forest or the desert or on an island. Another reason why regionalism is important to the story “To Build a Fire” is because of the harshness of the weather there in the Klondike. The narrator emphasizes this by saying “Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty-odd degrees of frost” (London, 810).
This shows the reader how cold it is out there in the Klondike. Also the fact that the old-timer tells the main character “that no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below” (London, 815) is important to the regionalism theme present in the story. If the main character didn’t just blow off what the well-seasoned veteran of the Klondike’s long and harsh winters told him, he probably wouldn’t have died out there. Also the fact that the fire is so hard to keep going is a symbol of how hard it is to survive out there in the Klondike.
There are some very visible similarities between “The Outcast of Poker Flat” and “To Build a Fire”; however, only one of the stories uses regionalism to its full potential. Although both “The Outcast of Poker Flat” and “To Build a Fire” showed the importance of regionalism, one captured the essence of its region better than the other. While both stories take place in cold, snowy places and in both of the stories the characters end up dead due to this, both stories do this in different ways.
In “The Outcast of Poker Flat” it takes a week for the characters to die whereas in “To Build a Fire” it takes hours. “To Build a Fire” also repeatedly reminds the reader how cold it is by saying its fifty degrees below zero whereas “The Outcast of Poker Flat” doesn’t tell how cold it is once. “To Build a Fire” also symbolizes how hard it is to survive with the fire not surviving twice and the reader is also told how hard it is by the wise old-timer in the story.
Both stories “The Outcast of Poker Flat” by Bret Harte and “To Build a Fire” by Jack London show how important the role of regionalism is on a story. The writers do this by showing it in the characters, climate, and even in history. Although both stories show regionalism, “To Build a Fire” most effectively captures the essence of its region through symbolism with the fire, the death of the character due to freezing in the snow, the word of the seasoned old-timer, and the constant reminder of the temperature to the reader.