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The Outcasts of Poker Flat

by Bret Harte

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Student Question

In "The Outcasts of Poker Flat", what is implied about the power of innocence? Is it believable?

Expert Answers

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In this sad story, the only person to survive was "the Innocent", Tom Simson. The rest of the characters are outcasts and, even though their deaths seem unfair, they all meet a tragic end. They are the scapegoats for a society looking for simple answers to complex problems. Nevertheless, they are all guilty of some kind of societal sin. Thus, the story would suggest that innocence offers some kind of protection from adversity and injustice. However, one must also consider Uncle Billy, who is also a rascal and seems to escape punishment by stealing the horses. I think the author, Bret Harte, also had other themes in mind, especially the idea that a crisis can bring out the best ( and also the worst) in people. Is the story believable? It may be overly sentimental but that is also one of the strengths of the story. Without some good feeling about the outcasts, we would not mourn their deaths in the end.

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