Reading Pointers for Sharper Insights

To fully understand “The Outcasts of Poker Flat,” read and consider the following:


The heavy snows and freezing winter of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, along with the confined space of the cabin, are effective in creating a situation where the characters—sinners and saints—must unite to survive.


Harte develops the character of John Oakhurst through small details. Notice the various comments about his neatness, his astute observations, and his easy-going philosophic attitudes.

Unique Elements in Harte's Story

  • Initially, the outcasts are depicted through the viewpoint of the townspeople—a thief and gambler, a prostitute, etc.—but Harte creates circumstances that evoke sympathy and pathos for them within the reader.

  • The juxtaposition of the various characters strengthens the large social and moral gulf among them.

  • Note the acts of kindness and good will that turn the characters from outcasts into heroes.

  • The Innocent and Piney teach the other outcasts lessons of humanity, which allows the good qualities the others possess to come out.