What are the changes in all the characters of "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"?
After a secret committee has decided to rid Poker Flat of its wickedness, several of the residents find themselves abruptly cast out by an armed escort. The banished residents react in different ways to this exile, and, because of their experiences, they also undergo some changes in themselves.
Among the ostracized party of the sluice robber, the gambler, and the ladies of ill repute, one character who does not change is Uncle Billy. In fact, this drunkard and confirmed thief remains completely unconscionable. While all the others sleep at the end of the day of exile, he steals the mules on which they have ridden away, leaving the party in the snowstorm with no way of transporting themselves across the rugged terrain.
Another character who does not alter his basic nature is Mr. John Oakhurst, the gambler. He is described in the beginning of the story as "philosophic," and he remains so. His main offence in Poker Flat has simply been that he has won a great deal of money from men who resent losing and they retaliate.
On the second day of the group's ostracism, a young man named Tom Simson appears at the camp Oakhurst and the others have made near the mountain. Mr. Oakhurst tries again to help the young man from whom he once won an "entire fortune" of forty dollars and returned it. He advises Tom and his young wife to not delay with his party, but to continue on their way. However, Tom insists upon remaining. After the snowstorm of a few days that prohibits travel, Tom volunteers to go to Poker Flat for help.
But, Oakhurst has sent the young man a day too late. So, if there is any change in him, it is his change from an effective leader to a failed leader. He also loses the courage to maintain hope. In despair, then, he walks out to the gulch, pins a "deuce of clubs" on a tree with his obituary written upon it that declares his having struck bad luck, so he has "handed in his checks."
It is, then, the Duchess and, especially Mother Shipton, who undergo major changes to their personalities as they move from petulant and self-serving women to motherly and self-sacrificing care givers.
When Oakhurst returns from his discovery of Uncle Billy's treacherous thievery, he finds Tom Simson's intended wife Piney sleeping peacefully beside Duchess and Mother Shipton, who tend to her as though she is their child. Then, in the days of waiting for a rescue party, Mother Shipton sets herself the task
of amusing "the child" as she and the Duchess were pleased to call Piney.
Clearly, they have allowed their motherly instincts to be exercised.
Later, as Mother Shipton's health seems to fail, the Duchess cheerfully assumes the care of Piney. Days pass and it is discovered that Mother Shipton has gone without eating so that Piney will be fed well. Like a real mother who has sacrificed herself for her child, she calls Mr. Oakhurst over to her in order to give him her bundle of food that she has saved.
"You've starved yourself," said the gambler.
"That's what they call it," said the woman...as she lay down again and, turning her face to the wall, passed quietly away.
Also indicative of the motherly love of the Duchess, when the members of the rescue party arrive too late, they find her and Piney wrapped in each other's frozen arms because they could find no more kindle for the waning fire.