What are Piney's characteristics in the story, "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Piney Woods, whose name suggests the natural and pristine, is a girl of fifteen, young and innocent, naive, delighted by life, and given to bravery.

  • young and innocent

When Tom Simson first arrives at the camp of the outcasts, Piney, "a comely damsel of fifteen," has been hiding behind a pine tree. After Tom, "the Innocent," tells Oakhurst that he and Piney have run off because her father has objected to their marriage, she emerges "blushing" as she rides up beside Tom.

Because she seems to be so innocent, the other women refrain from cursing in front of Piney. After a few days when Mother Shipton curses the drifting snow, she returns to the camp to the "task of amusing 'the child' as she calls Piney.

  • naive

Piney is very unwordly as she does not recognize Mother Shipton and the Duchess for what they are. Thinking that the Duchess is Mrs. Oakhurst, Piney talks to her in an "impulsive, girlish fashion" which is so honest that the Duchess listens with delight.

  • delighted by life

Piney shows no signs of distress by being in the camp. With enthusiasm she converses, and one night she proposes "a new diversion,...storytelling."  Despite the continuing bad weather that traps everyone in the camp, Piney and Tom "turned from the dreary prospect and looked into each other's eyes and were happy." 

  • given to bravery

After Tom leaves on snow shoes for Poker Flat, hoping to get help, the Duchess finds fuel for two more days. In the morning, the Duchess and Piney look at each other and "read their fate."  

Neither spoke: but Piney, accepting the position of the stronger, drew near and placed her arm around the Duchess's waist.

Later, Piney and the Duchess hold each other, 

...the younger and purer pillowing the head of her soiled sister upon her virgin breast, they fell asleep.

In a reversal of the descriptive adjectives applied to John Oakhurst at the story's end, Piney Woods is the weakest, yet the strongest.



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