What do you think The Outcasts of Poker Flat" says about the relation of virtue and innocence, or their lack, to what happens to a person?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a short story that very interestingly seems to blur the boundaries between discrete categories such as "good" and "bad" and "moral" and "corrupt." This is most clearly shown in the fate of the Duchess and Piney. The Duchess, who starts off being clearly a "bad" character, ends up through the love that she has for Piney to be a good character, so good in fact that her body bears no mark of sin or shame when it is found next to Piney's body:

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. Even the law of Poker Flat recognized this, and turned away, leaving them still locked in each other's arms.

Even though Piney is a good innocent character, this seems to have no impact on her fate, and even though the Duchess is an excellent example of a character that redeems herself and becomes good after being so bad for so long, she is not spared a cold and frozen death. If anything, the fate of various characters is presented in this story as being completely detached from their characteristics. After all, Uncle Billy, completely "bad" through and through, shows that he, who deserved a cruel death, actually was one of the characters who managed to get away and live on. Moral goodness does not give us any certainty of a long life, the story seems to suggest.

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The Outcasts of Poker Flat

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