The story depends on the local color of the mining camps of the California gold rush for its plot and theme. Not only is the setting in place and time vital to the story but also vital is the formation of the characters by that place, time, and situation. What happens happens because of the gold rush, because of the topography and weather of the place, and because of the sort of men who sought the gold for the reasons they had in the middle of the nineteenth century. The meaning of events is bestowed because of the way the miners thought and felt. Locale is not merely background, then, but is a major determiner in the story. The Luck’s name, the way he is treated, and the reformation of the camp and its inhabitants are all attributable to the nature of the dreamers who rear him. His coming is a miracle because his unlikely foster fathers have hope in miracles out of nature.
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If the story seems improbable because the effect of the baby is so sudden and so far-reaching, one needs to realize that this is a tale, a yarn, and not a realistic story, despite its use of realistic locale, speech, and mannerisms. Mostly the tale is narrated by a third-person narrator, who may have been one of the Roaring Camp miners or who might have gotten the tale from one of them. The narrator treats the tale with both humor and reverence. The tale is a tall one, to be smiled at; yet it is also offered as the story of a miracle in reformation, and that is supposed to inspire awe. Thematically the mood of the story spans the humorously shady past of the miners to the reverent mood of their hopes.
The allegorical intent is obvious, though it is slight and only to a small degree significantly symbolic. Out of the camp’s sinful past (personified by Cherokee Sal), nature bestows luck on the residents (the orphan), and trust in the luck (their devotion to the boy) reforms the community until nature (the flood) takes the luck away—but carries their representative, Kentuck, along with the Luck. Some readers may find a Christian allegory in the events, but it should be noted that it is the characters who bring up the suggestion of allegory and not the narrator, for the miners name the baby.
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