Book Review: The Outcast Of Poker Flats

An Introduction to Bret Harte's classic piece. Including character development, plot description and critical interpretation.

In the story of "Outcast of Poker Flat," by Bret Harte, there are four shady characters that had been excommunicated from the town of Poker Flats.

The main character, Mr. John Oakhurst, was a gambler. The town was willing to make a public example of anyone that they didn't trust, because the town had experienced several robberies. They wanted to hang Oakhurst because, "'It's agin justice', said Jim Wheeler, 'to let this yer young man from Roaring Camp - an entire stranger - carry away our money.'" Some of the locals in the Poker Flats had decided not to kill Mr. Oakhurst because they had been fortunate enough to win a few gambles.

The setting of this story has special significance to the work. The first significant thing that I see is the name of the town. The town's name was "Poker Flat." This gives the impression that this is a gambling and party town of the Old West. The nature of the people of Poker Flat is judgmental. In truth, while gambling, you have to pass judgment on the nature of the person whom you are playing against. It is mentioned that certain objectionable characters were removed from the town, even a few ladies, whose impropriety was professional. The timing of this work begins on November 23,. This is around the time of Thanksgiving. This should be a joyous occasion, to spend with family, friends and the locals of the town. Yet for Mr. Oakhurst and his three companions, this was a time of despair. They were being taken out the town and under threat of execution if they returned.

Another interesting thing to note is the mention of the camp, "on the road to Sandy Bar". To me this has the representation of wilderness. The trail was narrow and difficult. The story mentions that the "spot was singularly wild and impressive. The "Outcasts" are now in the wilderness of their lives, with only half the journey complete. The wilderness speaks of a land where there is not enough. Mr. Oakhurst says that he knew that there

was not enough provisions for a delay. Whereas the name "Sandy Bar" to me has the representation of an oasis.

While in the wilderness, Mr. Oakhurst met up with a friend that was called "The Innocent" of Sandy Bar. His name was Tom Simson and his wife was Piney Woods. She was a waitress at the "Temperance House". Piney's name, to me represents a land of plenty, yet using moderation in all things.



The setting later that night had changed into a strange child and overcast sky. When the characters turned in for the night, the kiss between Tom and Piney showed simplicity and gentleness, whereas the nature of the other four characters had been rough and uncaring, for the two ladies were too stunned to comment.

The next morning, the situation had changed again. They were snowed in. Also, one of their companions had escaped the valley. In the valley, Tom Simson shared his food supply with the outcasts. He had the idea that there would be enough food for the six of them for a week and then they would be able to travel back to Sandy Bar together when the snow had melted. But this was not to be the case. Mr. Oakhurst warned Tom about "holding his cards right, he'd be all right." Mr. Oakhurst told Tom that they had hit a streak of bad luck when they left Poker Flats and that Tom had walked into it.

During the tenth night of the entrapment in the valley, Mother Shipton, called for Mr. Oakhurst to come. She knew that it was her time to die. During the days in the valley, she had stored her food provisions. She had starved herself to death. She left her food provisions for Piney. As the story progresses, "The Duchess" and Piney dies, locked in each other's arms. The snow covered them as if it was covering "all trace of human stain.

Tom Simson was compelled to leave the valley in search for more provisions by Mr Oakhurst. The next morning, when a search team from Poker Flats arrived, they found the bodies of "The Duchess" and Piney together. Then at the head of the gulch, they found a note written.

It read :

BENEATH THIS TREE

LIES THE BODY

OF

JOHN OAKHURST.

WHO STRUCK A STREAK OF BAD LUCK

ON THE 23RD OF NOVEMBER, 1850

AND

HANDED IN HIS CHECKS

ON THE 7TH OF DECEMBER, 1850.

Mr Oakhurst had brought justice to himself. Though he may have thought he had escaped the justice of the people of Poker Flats, he still had to face the ultimate justice. Justice will not be escaped. The Scripture reminds us to "Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" Galations 6:7.

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