The Outcasts of Poker Flats
To many reading Francis Bret Harte’s short story, “The Outcasts of Poker Flat,” for the first time, the story line seems rather simple; four outcasts from the town of Poker Flat, forge their way to the next town only to be met with unforeseen fates. While it is true that this story represents the central action of the plot, it is the underlying story of Mr. Oakhurst and his transcendental awakening that makes “The Outcasts of Poker Flat,” such a compelling and timeless piece of literature. While it is true that Harte utilizes a myriad of literary techniques to adequately bring the reader in tune with Mr. Oakhurst and his melancholy disposition, it is the symbolism and foreshadowing of the rising and ebbing snowstorm that imparts the greatest emotion and understanding to the reader.
As the story opens, the reader is introduced to the character of Mr. Oakhurst. While it can be said that Mr. Oakhurst is neither a bad man nor a good man, circumstances have warranted that he be exiled from the town of Poker Flat. Unfortunately for him, his only crime has been winning the fortunes of some of the local citizens in poker games all across town. But as the author notes, things in Poker Flat were abysmal and the town was looking for someone to blame: “It (the town) was experiencing a spasm of virtuous reaction, quite as lawless as any of the acts it had provoked”. Unfortunately for Mr. Oakhurst and his cavalcade of travelers—the Duchess, Mother Shipton and Uncle Billy—the town of Poker Flat had determined that they were the “flavor of the week.” Fortunately for them, they were not to suffer the fate of their predecessors, who had been hung in the gulch.
After being exiled from the town, the four outcasts begin their journey to the next town, Sandy Bar. To the dismay of Mr. Oakhurst, the Duchess decides by noon the next day that she can travel no farther; the group has to stop and make camp for the night. While Mr. Oakhurst knows the party does not have the provisions for such an unexpected stop, the other outcasts content themselves by drinking the day and evening away. For Mr. Oakhurst, this is not an option as “It interfered with a profession which required coolness, impassiveness, and presence of mind”.