The Outcasts of Poker Flat Questions and Answers
by Bret Harte

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What are the conflicts that are resloved during the falling action of "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"?

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This story is depressing. The main reason for that is because the conflicts do not get resolved in any way that I would say leads to a happy ending.

Readers are introduced to the conflict of man vs. society right at the beginning of the story. Oakhurst, Mother Shipton, Uncle Billy, and Duchess are all exiled from the town of Poker Flat because presumably, they are not morally upstanding citizens. This conflict is "resolved" by the end of the story because three of the four characters die in the wilderness. Uncle Billy probably survives, because he abandons the group by leaving in the middle of the night and stealing what little supplies they have.

Another central conflict is man vs. nature. The group is forced to try and survive being snowed in, and their supplies dwindle quite quickly. Staying warm is also an issue. Oakhurst sends Tom back to town, and the hope is that a rescue party can be organized in time. The rescue party is not in time. Duchess and Piney freeze to death, Mother Shipton dies from starvation, and Oakhurst commits suicide. The man vs. nature conflict is resolved because the people are no longer struggling against nature's various attacks. The outcasts are dead.

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Being exiled and snowed-in has a surprisingly positive dramatic effect on the characters in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat." Mother Shipton, the madam, finds her true self during the final stages of the story. Her motherly instincts and concern for the others become most evident when it is found that she has been hoarding her food--and starving herself--so the two younger women may benefit from it. The Duchess's complaining turns to cheerfulness after the arrival of Piney Woods and, like Mother Shipton, she exerts a motherly influence on the younger, innocent girl. In the end, when their bodies are found together, the rescue party cannot tell

"... which was she that had sinned."

Meanwhile, Oakhurst, who has been the solid rock of the group, doing his best to keep the others' hopes alive, eventually shows why he is both 

"... the strongest and yet the weakest of the outcasts of Poker Flat."

When it becomes evident that survival is hopeless and death is eminent, he takes the easy way out--saving his last bullet for himself.

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