What is the main message of "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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In "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," Bret Harte plays the irony of the supposedly righteous do-gooders of the town off against the sincerity revealed by the outcasts in their extremity as they are snowbound in the wilderness. While the townspeople show themselves to be unscrupulous hypocrites, thanks to Harte's witty irony, the snowstorm provides opportunity for the genuine humanity of the outcasts to show through.

Tom and Piney see the outcasts through innocent eyes and draw conclusions about their identities that no one bothers to correct. Tom finds out that Oakhurst is kind and gentlemanly; Piney perceives the women as ladies of elegance. While it is true that their unfamiliarity with the individuals in part gives rise to their conclusions, it is also true that there sincere, genuine humanity and concern seal the truthfulness of their conclusions.

Bret Harte finalizes the confirmation his main message, which is that humanity runs deeper than external appearances and can't be judged by lip-service and propriety, when Oakhurst selflessly offers himself as a sacrifice in the hope that the women might live.