Poker Flat Summary

The short story “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” is one major journey, not physically, but mentally for the characters. Though the story ends in tragedy, most of the characters go through major mental changes before their untimely deaths. The Poker Flat Research Range (PFRR) is a launch facility and rocket range for sounding rockets in the U.S. State of Alaska. The world's largest land-based rocket range, it is on a 5,132-acre (20.77 km 2) site about 30 miles (50 km) northeast of Fairbanks and 1.5 degrees south of the Arctic Circle. STORY WORLD OF “THE OUTCASTS OF POKER FLAT” The setting is a very specific November 22 1850, in a town called Poker Flat, in Northwestern California. There are two towns that are known as “Poker Flat” in California: one that is located in Calaveras County and one that is located in the Sierra County near in the Sierra Nevada.

John Oakhurst

  • Main character
  • Expert gambler
  • Banished from Poker Flat
  • Traveling to Sandy Bar with Mother Shipton, The Duchess, and Uncle Billy
  • Commits suicide at the end of the story

Tom Simson

  • Nickname: “The Innocent”
  • Traveling to Poker Flat with lover, Piney, to get married
  • Continues the venture to Poker Flat in the snow for help

Mother Shipton

  • Owner of a brothel
  • Banished from Poker Flat
  • Eldest of the traveling party
  • Dies of starvation

Piney Woods

  • The virgin
  • Fifteen years old
  • Tom’s lover
  • Died of hypothermia while sleeping

The Duchess

  • Prostitute
  • Banished from Poker Flat
  • Died of hypothermia while sleeping

Uncle Billy

  • Suspected thief
  • Alcoholic
  • Leaves the others in the night while it snowed, and took the mules
Poker Flat Summary

Literary Analysis of Bret Harte’s ‘The Outcasts of Poker Flat’

‘The Outcasts of Poker Flat’ is a short story by Bret Harte. Written in 1869, it portrays one of the social realities happening within the period. The story remains to be a critique surrounding the labels and prejudice against people who are engaged in prostitution and gambling. Through the use of effective wordplay, Harte is able to advance the development of the story and its characters. Despite ending as a tragedy, the story presents important lessons and themes that enable readers to appreciate the realities that people had to accept in America’s Wild West.

One of the themes highlighted by Harte in his work reflects the pretentiousness and hypocrisy of the people within the Poker Flat Community. Arguably, their inclination to banish four people due to their ‘negative’ contribution to the town remains to be founded with hypocrisy as people consider the acts of gambling and prostitution a significant way of life in the Wild West. From the perspective of Harte, his depiction of John Oakhurst, Duchess and Mother Shipton personifies these characters to be innately good despite their association to what local townsfolk consider as deviant and destructive (Kolb 54). As readers progress in the story, they are able to find out about the kindness of each one, except maybe for Uncle Billy and portray the community as hypocrites in trying to label these people as evil.

Survival and sacrifice are also correlated themes evident in the story. As the outcasts try to survive the situation they were put in, it demonstrated the value system of each one. For instance, the decision of Mother Shipton to starve herself demonstrates her compassion and willingness to prolong the life of other outcasts before herself (Harte 1). Lorrie morgan rivers casino. The same can also be seen with Oakhurst as he hanged himself in a desperate attempt to enable others to survive and let them have the remaining ration. For Harte, the depiction of these characters indicates their willingness to serve the interests of other people such as Tom Simson. Likewise, it also argues that for people to survive there must be someone who is willing to sacrifice something. All these enable readers to realize and question whether or not the outcasts, except for Uncle Billy, deserve to be treated in such manner.

Another noticeable facet in the story is how Harte effectively develops the character of John Oakhurst. Specifically, his expertise in poker provides a powerful symbolism that enables readers to appreciate its relevance in the development of his personality. The most evident comes from the realization of how poker shaped Oakhurst identity. Here, he particularly demonstrates aptitude in understanding the different scenarios given to him and the foresight of what can potentially happen. Given these skills, he is able to masterfully outwit people and get their money in the process. However, there are also related challenges and misfortune associated with playing the game. Arguably, the thing that separates Oakhurst from the rest is his willingness to accept misfortune and bad luck as part of reality. Seeing this, Harte then connects the game of poker to human nature and the necessary maturity it requires people to effectively master the game, both good and bad.


Overall, Bret Harte’s ‘The Outcasts of Poker Flat’ remains to be story that captivates and critiques the hypocrisy of society surrounding the promotion of certain values and ideals. By focusing on the good quality and attributes of the outcasts, the piece is able to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the Poker Flat community as well as the struggle of people the outcasts in order to help others survive. Likewise, Harte’s use of words and symbolisms enable readers to undermine the challenges experienced by the outcasts, only to learn that they will die in the end. Putting these ideas altogether, Harte is able to bring forward the prejudice of American society and how imposing values to people further disengages the people to certain roles and functions.

Works Cited

Harte, Bret. ‘The Outcasts of Poker Flat’ Accessed 29 August 2014.

The Outcasts Of Poker Flat Summary

Kolb, Harold. Jr. ‘The Outcast of Literary Flat: Bret Harte as Humorist’ American Literary Realism 1870-1910, 23.2(1991): 52-63.

Poker Flat Resort

Scharnhorst, Gary. ‘Bret Harte, Unitarianism, and the Efficacy of Western Humor’ Literature and Belief, Literature and Belief, 21.1(2001): 93-102.