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The Outcasts of Poker Flat

by Bret Harte

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What is the internal conflict in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"?

Quick answer:

The internal conflict in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" shows in the way in which most of the outcasts reflect on their lives and feel a desire to find their best selves once they face exile and are trapped by a snowstorm.

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"The Outcasts of Poker Flat," told by an omniscient third-person narrator, relies more on external than internal conflict. However, in all cases but Uncle Billy, we see that the external conflict of having to deal with being snowed in with few provisions leads to internal self0-reflection and growing compassion.

Each of the characters except Uncle Billy is good at heart. We see evidence throughout the story that their adversity leads them to think about their lives—to attend to their interiority—and to grow into even better selves.

For example, Mr. Oakhurst, we are told, finds on reflection that

his very vices, for the first time seriously oppressed him.

Likewise, the Duchess, a prostitute, reacts with shame when the innocent Piney says to her,

“I reckon now you're used to fine things at Poker Flat,” said Piney. The Duchess turned away sharply to conceal something that reddened her cheeks

The Duchess, a good women at heart, having encountered the kindness of the other outcasts, has had time to reflect and feel remorse over how she once lived.

Each of them grows enough through their hardship to face death peacefully. We learn that

no one complained. The lovers turned from the dreary prospect and looked into each other's eyes, and were happy. Mr. Oakhurst settled himself coolly to the losing game before him. The Duchess, more cheerful than she had been, assumed the care of Piney.

The story plays on the difference or conflict between external appearances and internal worth. Because the outcasts are good inside, this provides them with a strong platform of character from which to face adversity with patience and self-sacrifice.

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