What do the characters in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" by Bret Harte realize about life?
Many realist writers used the technique of character self-realization in their stories to convey a message or theme.
Faced with the awesome power of nature, the snow that has come as they climb to a higher elevation, the social outcasts of Poker Flat realize that they are doomed. Faced with this truth, the members of this pariah group each show his or her mettle in different ways.
For instance, realizing that she is older and has been fortunate enough to live much of her life already, Mother Shipton hoards her supplies so that the young Piney may have provisions to prolong her life. The Duchess holds Piney to keep her warm after the fire from the wood that Mr. Oakhurst has left goes out. Mr. Oakhurst fashions snowshoes and instructs Tom to go to Poker Flat for help and supplies. Then, he "plays his cards" by setting out the other way in hopes of finding someone to help them. When he realizes that he has lost his gamble, Mr. Oakhurst demonstrates this realization by shooting himself and leaving his note attached to the unlucky playing card, a deuce. So, the "spasm of virtuous reaction" that the town of Poker Flat has had by rejecting the outcasts, destroys, rather than enforces the morality of the people. In truth, the Outcasts of Poker Flat, which the exception of the prolirerate Uncle Billy, are the most moral of chacteres.