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The Outcasts of Poker Flat

by Bret Harte

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

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You need to make an argument about the thesis of "The Outcasts of Poker Flat."

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I think the main message to readers from "The Outcasts of Poker Flat " is a message about not making initial, snap judgments of people based on appearances. It is a story that teaches the classic "don't judge a book by its cover" message. We see this through most...

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of the characters. Oakhurst, Mother Shipton, Duchess, and Uncle Billy are forcibly removed from the town of Poker Flat for presumably being miscreants and negative influences. Uncle Billy is a drunk, Oakhurst is a gambler, and the women are women of ill repute. Readers expect certain behaviors out of these people, and we are even rewarded with getting the expected result when Uncle Billy runs off in the night with all of the supplies; however, all of the other outcasts wind up being incredibly selfless, supporting, and caring characters. They strive to keep each other alive in various ways instead of selfishly acting to preserve their own lives. It's a great twist in the story that Harte accomplished because the townspeople that were so bent on being good and pure actually were the ones that were humbled by the selflessness of the supposedly immoral outcasts.

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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.

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What are the themes of "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"?

Redemption is an important theme in the story. As the title implies, the characters are outcasts, expelled from so-called respectable society by its self-appointed moral guardians. Yet in the midst of extreme adversity they show themselves to be more moral than those who banished them. Oakhurst, the professional poker player, shows kindness in trading his horse for the Duchess's mule; he also redeems himself by giving Tom back the money that he cheated him out of years before and telling him not to gamble anymore.

As for the Duchess, a notorious prostitute, she achieves redemption in a number of ways. The Duchess, along with another prostitute, Mother Shipton, spares Tom and Piney considerable fear and anxiety by not telling them about Uncle Billy's making off with the mules and provisions, which has left the party of outcasts in serious danger. Even more astonishing is the behavior of Mother Shipton, who sacrifices her life by giving her few remaining rations to young Piney.

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What are the themes of "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"?

There are several themes explored 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.

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What is the thesis of "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"?

"The Outcasts of Poker Flat" could have more than a single thesis about it. A thesis is a statement that makes an argument about something. A thesis could make an argument about a writer's writing style or the effectiveness of a particular narrative point of view. It could make an argument about a theme or themes present in the story, and a thesis could make argument about one or more characters.

The thesis is entirely up to you, but it needs to make an argument that you intend to prove by using evidence from the story. It is not a statement of fact. For this reason, choose a thesis topic that is open to interpretation. I generally recommend writing a thesis that analyzes a particular theme or character(s). These two things generally overlap because often characters support a particular theme, or themes are illustrated by particular characters. For example, there is a strong theme present in this story that explores the difference between reality and appearance. When the story begins, the outcasts are described as "improper persons." They are being kicked out of town because they are supposedly the seedier and morally corrupt individuals of the town. Uncle Billy winds up typifying this description, as he leaves the other outcasts to fend for themselves. Readers have to wonder if they would have survived had Uncle Billy not taken everything with him. The rest of the characters, on the other hand, wind up being incredibly loving and caring for each other. They do not act like the gamblers and prostitutes that they are.

Once you have a general concept or argument in mind for the thesis, you have to word it. This can be a tricky thing because it needs to be detailed, but it also needs to be concise. In other words, it needs to make a clear argument without being overly wordy. Two formats tend to work well. The first format is a statement followed by a proof/examples statement. You make a statement and then tell your reader what you intend to use as evidence. Here is an example: "The theme of appearance versus reality is most clearly illustrated through the characters of Mother Shipton, Duchess, and Oakhurst." The other format that tends to work well is a point and counterpoint thesis format. Your main point is the second half of the statement. It would look something like the following statement: "Although the town of Poker Flat believes that the outcasts are the dregs of society, the outcasts more than prove their moral worth by the end of the story."

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What central theme about human behavior does the "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" convey?

There are several themes developed in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat." Perhaps the main theme is that of how fate--or, in Oakhurst's case, "a streak of bad luck"--can control a person's destiny. But, in regards to human behavior, the theme of heroism is dominant. Oakhurst at first appears to be the hero of the story, showing his leadership ability during the first days of the outcasts' journey. However, in the end, he takes the coward's way out, committing suicide rather than trying to ride our his streak of misfortune. The true heroes are the least likely pair: Mother Shipton and the Duchess. Mother Shipton starves herself to death, hording her food in the hopes that it will eventually help the others. The Duchess shows a motherly touch with Piney, keeping her spirits up to the end. Young Tom also shows a heroic streak, setting off in the blizzard alone in search of help for the others.

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