The Luck of Roaring Camp
Bret Harte is the author of a short story entitled “The Luck of Roaring Camp” written in the 1880s. The story tells of the birth of a baby boy in a rough mining town. The mother dies after giving birth and there are no other women in the camp, so the care of the child falls upon the “roughs” of the camp, “the term ‘roughs’ applied to them was a distinction rather than a definition” (6). This heartwarming story tells how life was during this time and the obstacles that these miners had to face.
It shows how a child being brought into the world makes people change and shows them how to be better people. A reader can certainly see all the similarities, as well as differences, between Harte’s story and the story of the Birth of Christ. A character in a story that possesses several qualities of Jesus Christ would be considered a “Christ figure. ” In Harte’s story there are several qualities present in the character Tommy Luck. When “the Luck” is brought into this world “a cry unlike anything heard before in the camp.
The pines stopped moaning, the river ceased to rush, and the fire to crackle. It seemed as if nature had stopped to listen” (8), it’s as if God himself stopped everything to hear the first cry coming from this child’s mouth. During the course of the story “the Luck’s” influence on the miners bring forth such drastic changes that further corroborate his likeliness to the life of Jesus Christ. The passing of the hat, “beside the candle-box was placed a hat” (10) where each and every man presents the child with a gift, reminiscent of the Wise Men bringing forth gifts for Jesus Christ.
Each man gave what they had: “a silver tobacco-box; a doubloon; a navy revolver; an diamond breastpin; a diamond ring; a slung shot; a Bible; a golden spur; a silver teaspoon; a pair of surgeon’s shears; a lancet; and about $200 in loose gold and silver coin”(10). The generosity of the miners that were normally superstitious of the newcomers to the camp shows what an impact this child has on these men. The generosity toward the child would be considered an act of God, changing them for the better with his influence.
We’ve all heard the saying “cleanliness is next to godliness”; this shows true when the author writes “the cabin assigned to ‘the Luck’ first showed signs of improvement. It was kept scrupulously clean and whitewashed” (16), but that was just the beginning. Before long “they’ve got vines and flowers round their houses, and they wash themselves twice a day” (18). Cleansing the camp and themselves shows how “The Luck’s” birth has inspired the miners just as Jesus Christ inspires all people who accept him
The best example comes at the end of the story when Kentuck is found drifting down the river after the flood: “it needed but a glance to show them Kentuck lying there, cruelly crushed and bruised, but still holding the Luck of Roaring Camp in his arms” (23), sadly the child was dead and Kentuck was dying. “A smile lit the eyes of the expiring Kentuck, ‘Dying’, he repeated, ‘he’s taking me with him—tell the boys I’ve got the Luck with me now” (23), shows Luck was guiding Kentuck toward his death and acts as his savior.
There are many aspects in the story that are completely opposite what happens in the story of the nativity. The first difference would be that Mary is a virgin giving birth, whereas “Cherokee Sal was a coarse, and, it is to be feared, a very sinful woman” (2), meaning that she is a prostitute. Sadly, Cherokee Sal dies in this story “within an hour she had climbed, as it were, that rugged road that led to the stars, and so passed out of Roaring Camp, its sin and shame forever”(9), leaving the men in Roaring Camp to care for the baby.
Mary lives after giving birth to Jesus so the child has a female to care for him, but Luck has only the men of the camp since “they didn’t want any more of the other kind’ (13) in the camp. “The only other being of Cherokee Sal’s sex and maternal condition in the settlement was an ass” so Luck was to drink the milk of “Jinny—the mammal before alluded to. ” In the Nativity story, baby Jesus is born in the stables amongst the cattle and donkeys.
Although in “The Luck of Roaring Camp,” Tommy is born in a cabin of one of the miners while “the assemblage numbered about a hundred men, such was the physical aspect of the men that were dispersed around the cabin. ” The flood takes out what were possibly the best three men in the camp (Stumpy, Luck, and Kentuck). In the bible, great floods serve as a way to wipe the earth clean, but in the story “The Luck of Roaring Camp”, the flood kills the best people in the camp. There are many interpretations of this story that a reader can take with a much deeper meaning.
One cannot deny that Harte had to have the story of the Nativity in mind when he wrote this story. There are many similarities in both. At the same time there are many things that are different. Who knows what he was going for when he wrote it? One can only take what he or she wants from the story. This paper took what is read into it and thus the message of this story is that man is essentially good, but needs just that certain push in the right direction, which Luck’s birth brought forth. The redemption of the miners come from a connection they feel toward the child—born not of a virgin, but of a prostitute.