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Cactus Thron and the Outcasts of Poker Flat

Updated on November 14, 2014

Mary Austin


Cactus Thorn

The concept of a strong sense of feminism is explored in Cactus Thorn. This strong sense of feminism is illustrated in the desert landscape with the cactus and in Dulcie seeking her own immediate justice when she feels wronged by Arliss. The fact that Dulcie does not seek anyone else, a male, to dole out justice for her is an attestation to the acceptance of feminine emotions (stereotypical) and Austin’s strong assertion in the text regarding the embrace of said emotions with a show of feminine power. If Austin did not incorporate the stereotypical binaries of the male/female perceptions of love, physical/emotional respectively, along with the perception of Dulcie in the desert landscape, she would have simply been writing a stereotypical text. However, the show of feminine power is apparent in the landscape which thwarts the simple stereotypes of women and men regarding love because Arliss’ disrespect of women symbolizes a disrespect for nature. When Arliss pricks his finger on a cactus thorn, Dulcie does warn Arliss that the desert is not a landscape with which to toy. She also offers her dagger to his at this time to aid in removing the thorn. Here Dulcie informs Arliss that the desert “is like a woman, you know-that has only one man or child, she loves it to death” (Austin 9). Here Austin also shows the atypical strength of the feminine existence in the context of her choice of pronouns. She refers to the example child and man as it. In relation to the man, Arliss, this foreshadows his transparency as a user that will place Dulcie in the state of mind to view him as an “it” that will need to be destroyed for his selfish behavior.

The Outcasts of Poker Flat

The Outcasts of Poker Flat revealed the western landscape in the text with its description of the area in which the outcasts elected to camp. Observe: “The spot was singularly wild and impressive. A wooded amphitheatre, surrounded on three sides by precipitous cliffs of naked granite, sloped gently toward the crest of another precipice that overlooked the valley” (Harte). Furthermore, Harte captures the natural landscape along with nature’s disregard for the human condition with his illustration of the weather changes: “The pines rocked, the storm eddied and whirled above the miserable group, and the flames of their altar leaped heavenward, as if in token of the vow. At midnight the storm abated, the rolling clouds parted, and the stars glittered keenly above the sleeping camp” (Harte). In addition to giving the reader a picture of the landscape and the weather which accompanies it, Harte explores the romantic side of the West along with the hypocrisy that would often manifest within these idealized and romanticized notions. The townspeople decide to exile Mr. Oakhurst for his gambling ways. This is not because they are so opposed to the “sinful” nature of gambling; it is because they succomb to gambling and lose. Of course, had they won, the outcome would have been different. Furthermore, the romantic notion of the West comes into play with how the outcasts treat one another while in the open landscape with the exception of Billy the thief. Themes of heroes and heroines emerge in their interaction with each other. For instance, Tom, who has limited resources himself, offers to share what he has with the group after Billy runs off with their food and horses. Here is a man who is out in the middle of nowhere along with his young wife and has not even been exiled from the town. His shelter is a roofless cabin; however, he offers to share with others. When Oakhurst decides to make snow-shoes, he offers them to Tom as opposed to walking back to town to save himself. Oakhurst also appears to die a semi-romanticized death in that he commits suicide but leaves provisions and a note for the others before embracing death.

Austin, Mary. Cactus Thorn: A Novella. Reno: U of Nevada, 1988. Print.

Harte, Bret. "The Outcasts of Poker Flat." THE LUCK OF ROARING CAMP AND OTHER TALES With Condensed Novels, Spanish And American Legends, And Earlier Papers From The Writings Of Bret Harte. Project Gutenberg Ebook. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

Bret Harte



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      Onaliasagitarius 2 years ago

      Thank you for this tutorial! It is aainmzg! I'm not an experienced sewer, and I'm struggling on the second part. I've started sewing the squares together for my first row. My pieces look buckled and the sewn line down does not lay smooth and straight like all the photos I've seen.Do I need to pin the 5 pleats and also sew additional little gathers as I sew each one together? I feel like the spacing in between the 5 pleats is causing it to not give a complete straight neat line in between each one.