Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The pretentiousness of the Poker Flat community is contrasted with the essential goodness of the exiles. The hanging of two men and the banishment of four people are tactics associated with vigilantes of the Old West. In their attempt to establish their own brand of law and order, the people of the town are hypocritical. The gambler and the prostitutes serve as scapegoats for the collective guilt of a community that is trying to look respectable while its sole purpose for existing is the pursuit of gold. History illustrates that gambling and prostitution thrived in places such as Poker Flat. The author emphasizes the communal hypocrisy, then, by creating an honorable gambler and prostitutes with the proverbial hearts of gold.
Oakhurst is a heroic protagonist whose inclusion among the exiles is a matter of revenge rather than justice. Some members of the committee had urged hanging him as a means of getting back the money that they had lost to him, but they were overruled by those who had managed to win. He is merely banished, then, but Oakhurst takes the punishment philosophically. His profession has prepared him to accept bad luck. Oakhurst emerges as the leader of the exiles, who, had they taken his advice, probably would have survived. One of his former noble deeds is related when Tom Simson arrives. The compassion he has shown for the youth in returning his money sets him apart from ordinary mortals. Oakhurst commits suicide when he assesses the...
(The entire section is 591 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Outcasts of Poker Flat Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
"The Outcasts of Poker Flat'' tells the story of four individuals exiled from a frontier town because of their alleged immorality. A blizzard traps them and a pair of innocent young lovers, leading to tragic consequences.
Appearances and Reality
At the beginning of the story, the four outcasts are described as "improper persons," and their initial actions suggest that, except for Oakhurst, they are foul-mouthed, lazy, and prone to drunkenness. However, because they come from another settlement, Tom and Piney know little about these strangers, and their perceptions are not clouded by the prejudices of the people in Poker Flat. In a previous brief encounter with Oakhurst, Tom had found him to be kind and gentlemanly, so Tom treats him as a gentleman rather than as a shifty card shark. The young couple assumes that the prostitute Duchess is "Mrs. Oakhurst," and Piney imagines that the women from Poker Flat must be ladies of a high social standing who are "used to fine things."
The discrepancy between appearance and reality becomes most apparent when the party is trapped in the snowstorm. Mother Shipton may indeed be a madam, but she also shows herself to be compassionate and heroic when she sacrifices her life in an effort to save Piney Likewise Duchess, the "soiled sister," evolves into a companion and protector for Piney. By the end of the story, observers cannot determine "which was she that had sinned." Oakhurst, the member of...
(The entire section is 869 words.)