From Bret Harte's "The Outcasts of Poker Flats", with supporting details, show which of the two answers is correct.- When times are rough, people will find scapegoats to blame for their troubles....

From Bret Harte's "The Outcasts of Poker Flats", with supporting details, show which of the two answers is correct.

- When times are rough, people will find scapegoats to blame for their troubles.

- When times are rough, people will come together and change their ways.

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Based upon the fate of the "outcasts," I would say that Bret Harte's story of "The Outcasts of Poker Flats" is presenting the reader with an example of how people come together and change when times are rough.

This is not to say that the first theme is not a common one, but it does not apply to this story.

To support this, Mother Shipton, "once the strongest of the party," becomes weak and dies; her strength gives way to self-sacrifice as she hoards her rations for Piney, showing a change in her priorities and a glimmer of the potential for goodness beneath the surface.

Oakhurst, the gambler, has some decency under his self-serving exterior. He once returned money to Simson when he the younger man lost it to Oakhurst in a poker game. When the snows arrive, Oakhurst shows what he is worth by electing to stay with the women while Simson goes for help. He also covers up the death of Mother Shipton to encourage Simson to travel to save her, saying that her only chance rests with Simson. (In essence, he also saves Simson's life by sending him away.)

The Duchess is a prostitute, but her heart is won over by Piney's innocent respect for her, and Piney's love for Simson. The Duchess has become warmed by the love of Piney. The Duchess and Piney stay close as the snow continues to fall, hugging each other for warmth and from a mutual concern for the other. When a rescue party finally arrives, they find the two frozen together in death.

And when pitying fingers brushed the snow from their wan faces, you could scarcely have told from the equal peace that dwelt upon them which was she that had sinned.

Oakhurst's concern for the others is seen earlier when he stays behind. He finally kills himself; at first I wasn't sure if he did this because he didn't want to take rations from the others, but I don't see this "new" man leaving the women to fend for themselves. There is also no mention that the women hear the sound of a gun going off. I expect that rather than face a lonely death in the snow, Oakhurst gathers his courage around him and takes his life when the others have already died.

Most certainly, the story shows a metamorphosis among these "outcasts," these "undesirables." Ironically, when their chances of survival seem to become poor, the outcasts do all they can to protect Simson and Piney so they are not only unaware of how the change in their circumstances, but are able to abide in their love for each other rather than being frightened.

The second answer is the correct one: when things get rough, people can come together and change, doing things out of character from their previous lives.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The philosopher/writer Johann von Goethe once remarked that man is a herd animal who does not want to belong to a herd. That is, he wishes to be independent, but he really needs others.  And, so, man often resents others when he is in situations in which he is unhappy or unfortunate. Yet, at the same time, he will join the "herd" and be supportive in dire situations.

1. True   The residents of Poker Flat do, indeed, find scapegoats for their troubles.

In the exposition of his story, "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," Bret Harte writes,

[The town] had lately suffered the loss of several thousand dollars, two valuable horses, and a prominent citizen.  It was experiencing a spasm of virtuous reaction, quite as lawless and ungovernable as any of the acts that had provoked it.  A secret committee had dertermined to rid the town of all improper persons.

Ironically, these people are only "improper" after they have rid the righteous citizens of their valuables.  By removing these people from their town, the residents hope to resume their lives as they were prior to the arrival of such "wicked" individuals. 

2. Sometimes true.  In difficult times, often strength of character is evinced in people who otherwise seem rather dissolute.  However, there are frequently others who are incorrigible no matter the situation, dire or otherwise.  For instance, Uncle Billy who has no redeeming characteristics--laughing at the Innocent's display of chivalry towards the Duchess by calling her Mrs. Oakhurst and offering to help them all--steals the mules one nights as the outcasts sleep. 

Aside from the inhumane Uncle Billy, the other people of "deported wickedness" prove themselves unselfish, kind, and even heroic. Mother Shipton, for example, has starved herself so that the young Piney can have food.  Mr. Oakhurst fashions snowshoes for Tom so that he can go to Poker Flat for help; in addition, he goes out into the frigid air and snow, only after having provided the women with firewood, in order to go to the canyon to see if anyone is there.

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The Outcasts of Poker Flat

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