How was John Oakhurst heroic in The Outcasts of Poker Flat?

Expert Answers
rogal eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Oakhurst is a hero, because out of all the outcasts he alone is able to face the reality of his death even though he could have saved himself. After days of snow, Oakhurst realizes that the snow would not let up as they had initially forecast. He therefore makes snowshoes out of a saddle and gives these to Tom Simson with the hope that he can use them to reach Poker Flat to get help for Piney, his fiancé. Afterwards, he makes a kind of epitaph for himself on a “deuce of clubs,” which he pins on a tall pine tree by the gulch, before committing suicide.

Throughout the ill-fated journey, Oakhurst remains the most clearheaded person in the group of Poker Flat deportees. When the rest of the outcasts insist on camping less than halfway through their journey, Oakhurst tries to explain to them the perils of doing this. He says that they lacked the provisions needed for such a rest. However, his advice falls on deaf ears, as his colleagues take to drinking liquor, thereby rendering further travel impossible. Even though he observes “the ominously clouded skies,” he does not desert his fellow outcasts to save his own skin.

Also, Oakhurst displays great maturity during the snow storm that helps to bring the group of people together during their “forced seclusion”. Even when he discovers that Uncle Billy has deserted the travelers in the night, he does not tell this to their new colleagues, Tom Simson and Piney Woods. Though traveling in an opposite direction, they are also “snowed in”.

Rebecca Owens eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Even though Oakhearst is a gambler, he is an honorable man. He shows his noble side when he returns money to Tom "the innocent" after he wins from him in what the gamble considers and unfair match, since Tom has so little experience with gambling. He takes on the leadership role in the party of outcasts. He does everything he can to protect Tom and Piney: He suggests they move on alone, and when that fails, he rations the food and keeps the order and assumes the largest part of the responsibilites, including the major part of night watch. And even though he takes the cowardly way out of life by killing himself (which proves him the weakest), before he takes his life, he does everything he can to ensure the survival of the remaining outcasts. He makes the snowshoes for Tom and sends him for help. He cuts and stacks firewood for the Duchess and Piney. So he is heroic in those ways.

janeyb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When the outcasts are trapped by a snowstorm, Oakhurst assumes leadership of the group. After putting together a makeshift pair of snowshoes, he gives them to Simson, instructing him to go to Poker Flat and bring help. When the rescue party finally arrives, Oakhurst has killed himself, revealing himself to be "the strongest and yet the weakest of the
outcasts of Poker Flat."


Read the study guide:
The Outcasts of Poker Flat

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question