There are several themes explored by author Ambrose Bierce in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat." Fate is a condition over which the characters have little control. The outcasts are subject to a "spasm of virtuous reaction" from the town that no one could have expected, and the unexpected blizzard that hits them just after they begin their journey leads to their deaths. Heroism is another theme, seen best in the character of John Oakhurst. A soft-hearted gambler, he shows heroic qualities throughout the outcasts' ordeal, but in the end, he takes the coward's way out. The theme of appearance vs. reality is seen mostly in the Duchess and Mother Shipton. A pair of prostitutes, they are transformed into almost angelic characters by the story's end. This theme is closely related to another, that of change and transformation. The women faithfully tackle the responsibility of keeping up the spirit of the innocent Piney Woods, changing from angry and bickering harlots into motherly figures at the end.