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The Outcasts of Poker Flat

by Bret Harte

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Discussion Topic

The resolution and events leading to it in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat."

Summary:

The resolution in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" occurs when the group, exiled from Poker Flat, faces harsh conditions. John Oakhurst, the gambler, sacrifices himself to save others, but they ultimately succumb to the elements. The story concludes with the discovery of their bodies, underscoring themes of fate, redemption, and the harshness of frontier life.

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In "The Outcasts Of Poker Flat," what is the resolution of the central conflict and what do the outcasts win?

I think the central conflict is resolved when the rescuers from Poker Flat arrive and find Piney Woods and the Duchess in a death embrace. The text says that the people who found the two couldn't tell by looking which was the innocent and which was the sinner. (I am paraphrasing). 

The point is, the people of Poker Flat had judged the two prostitutes, the gambler and the drunk as "undesirable" for their community. Nonetheless, most of the four outcasts were decent and even selfless, good people when given the opportunity. When they are faced with caring for themselves or caring for Piney or Tom, all except Uncle Billy take the higher path and give their all--even their lives--to protect the young couple.

So, even though they have died and seem to have lost, when the townsfolk from Poker Flat realize that they have judged the outcasts too quickly--that they are indeed good people, and that they are no better or worse (indistinguishable, in fact) from the innocents--then they win redemption. But the folks from Poker Flat changed as well. The implication is that they have learned not to judge too quickly or too harshly, and that the sacrifice of these outcasts will change the attitudes of an entire community. In their silence, the dead have gotten the last word. 

For more information on themes and characters, see the links below.

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In "The Outcasts Of Poker Flat," what is the resolution of the central conflict and what do the outcasts win?

Not all of the outcasts die;  Tom Simson doesn't die and Uncle Billy's status is unknown since he leaves with the group's horses. The others, Mother Shipton, Duchess, Piney Woods, and John Oakhurst do die however.  They die, but not before being able to redeem themselves.  Mother Shipton, a madam, denies herself food so that it might be given to Piney. Duchess and Piney freeze to death, huddled together for warmth.  While Duchess had been disagreeable before the group met up with Piney and Tom, who were eloping, afterward, she was tender and nurturing toward Piney and much more cheerful. John Oakhurst becomes the leader of the group when it becomes stranded.  He sends Tom with a pair of quickly made snowshoes to Poker Flat to bring help.  Oakhurst knew Tom had the best chance of making it to Poker Flat and that was the best chance any of them had of being rescued. Piney Woods died never knowing about the personal lives of the other group members and had no prejudice against them, so she died a young woman in love with no hatred in her heart.

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What events lead to the resolution in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"?

One of the first events is the expulsion from Poker Flats of the outcasts.  Then, after their first night in the mountains, Uncle Billy, one of the outcasts steals the group's meager provisions leaving them with nothing.  Then the snow begins.  Tom Simson, who joined the group along with his bride-to-be, Piney Woods, shares the provisions he and Piney have with the group, though those provisions are not much.  After a few days of being trapped in the abandoned cabin in which the group is huddled, John Oakhurst persuades Tom to go for help leaving the rest of the group behind.  One outcast, Mother Shipton, starves herself to death because she saved her provisions for Piney, and then Piney and Duchess freeze to death.  John Oakhurst, unwilling to die slowly by starvation or freezing, shoots himself.

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What events lead to the resolution in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"?

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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What events lead to the resolution in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"?

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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