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.)
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