Characters In Bret Harte's The Outcasts Of Poker Flat

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Bret Harte’s “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” is a character-driven story about a group of banished citizens from the town of Poker Flat. The emphasis is not placed on the crimes they committed, which allows the reader to further sympathize with these characters without first making a judgment based upon morals. The protagonist, John Oakhurst, along with the company of outcasts, makes his way across a rugged mountain range towards the town of Sandy Bar. At the insistence of the rest of the group, which consists of The Duchess, Mother Shipton, and Uncle Billy, they delayed their journey. During this time, the group is met up with a young couple Tom Simson and Piney Woods, also referred to as The Innocent and The Child; neither of whom recognizes the group as criminals. Mr. Oakhurst awakens to find Uncle Billy had abandoned the group, and also taken the mules with him. The group finds themselves stranded as the weather takes a turn for the worse. With inadequate transportation to traverse through the snow, the group finds themselves making the most of what little provisions they had. Mother Shipton sacrifices her portions for Piney, and dies of starvation. Mr. Oakhurst, still the seemingly steadfast leader, encourages The Innocent to make his way through the snow to Poker Flat in order to find help. The citizens of Poker Flat arrive to find Piney Woods and The Duchess dead in each others’ arms. At a nearby pine tree, Mr. Oakhurst is found dead with a bullet through his heart, “he who was at once the strongest and yet the weakest of the outcasts of Poker Flat”. The theme of “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” illustrates that nature forms no judgment upon the character of the individual because all humans are susceptible to its power. Harte’s... ... middle of paper ... ...resent the unstained, goodhearted human nature. The death of Piney Woods at the end of the story reconfirms the theme that nature shows no bias towards moral character. On the other hand, Tom Simson’s journey back to Poker Flat represents hope and the advantage of innocence over corruption. Harte’s narrative style, word choice, and symbolic characters forms a story about human nature and how it can best be observed when survival is the primary goal. When faced with death, Uncle Billy chooses to save himself at the expense of the group. The others, the supposed wrongdoers of Poker Flat, choose to selflessly turn to one another. Tom Simson and Uncle Billy, the two characters most likely to have survived represent the two opposing paths one can take in life. Death will not show bias to those who are more righteous; although in life, goodness of the heart will prevail.

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