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John Oakhurst, the gambler, is called “both the strongest and the weakest of the Outcasts of Poker Flat.” To understand why, one must look back to the beginning of the story, when Oakhurst left the town with the other outcasts. He was with people who were very ill equipped to deal with their circumstances: a prostitute, a drunk, and an accused “witch.” It falls to Oakhurst to lead them, to help them travel, and to watch over them. He does this with little complaint. When they insist on stopping, though he protests, he accepts that he must stay with them or they will surely die. When Tom and Piney arrive, he tries to send them on their way, but they have nowhere to go, and he takes on the responsibility for them, too.
When the party begins to realize that they will probably die, Oakhurst does what he can to keep them alive. He cuts wood, he divides up the food, and he goes along with the storytelling that helps to keep the spirits up. When it comes time to face reality, he makes snowshoes for Tom, cuts a huge amount of wood, and tells the ladies he is going to see Tom to the clearing. He never returns, and when they find him, he has committed suicide. He can face being an outcast, he can take responsibility for everyone else, but he cannot face the fate the ladies met—freezing to death. So, he is the strongest because he took care of everyone else, and he is the weakest because he could not face dying the same way they did.
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