The Tales of the Argonauts is a novel written by Bret Harte that was published in 1875. The novel is not a retelling of the adventures of Jason and his Argonauts, but rather it tells the story of the people who moved to California in search of gold in 1849. Though many Californians did not like the way Harte portrayed life there, his storyline and setting is very lifelike and relatable. Though his settings are not idealistic, Harte always points out the good characteristics in every character, not only the important and wealthier characters but also the most debased characters.
The title, The Tales of the Argonauts, makes a mythical allusion to Jason and the Argonauts and their quest to get the Golden Fleece. Pelias kills Jason’s father when Jason was a baby, and his mother took him to Chiron, a centaur who raises him in hiding on Mount Pelion. Jason has to complete many difficult and impossible tasks to get the Golden Fleece, and with the help of Medea, he succeeds. However, Jason doesn’t stay loyal to her and Medea kills Jason’s new wife and their kids. Eventually, Jason is killed by a falling beam from his ship.
In this novel, the Argonauts are the gold seekers traveling to California. Those people came from all over the world and with all different levels of fortune, yet all of them had the determination and endurance to reach California, the land of the gold. At first, the societal structure is undeveloped and each person was independent within the larger web of the gold seeker society there.