Human societies all across the world follow a set of beliefs which influence their attitude and thinking. There are certain values which are honored and followed by the members of these human societies. Among these values, the value of virtue and purity is considered to be most important for the welfare of the society. The significance attached to virtuous behavior and purity in human society is depicted in the short story “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” by Bret Harte. The story follows the journey of four outcasts who are exiled from their community named Poker Flat.
Although these four outcasts are expelled from their community for failing to follow the values of virtue and purity, they display their virtuous qualities in the course of their journey when they seek to protect a young couple of lovers. Through the element of symbolism, the author brings forth the mistaken notion of virtue held by the people in the community of Poke Flat. Symbolism People regard that virtuous behavior is the most important factor which influences the welfare of a human society.
If the members in a particular society are virtuous, then the peace and harmony in the society is maintained. But if some of the members of the society indulge in immoral behavior, then the peace of the society can be threatened. It is this thinking that induces the people of the town in the story “The Outcasts of Poker Flat”, to banish four individuals, who are thought to be indulging in immoral activities, from Poker Flat. These four individuals are John Oakhurst, The Duchess, Mother Shipton and Uncle Billy.
John Oakhurst was a gambler whereas Uncle Bill was a drunkard, who was also doubted of being a robber. Mother Shipton owned a brothel while The Duchess worked as a saloon girl. The people of the town desired to deport immoral persons living amongst them hoping that the town will flourish after the departure of such people. “A secret committee had determined to rid the town of all improper persons. ” (Harte 23). These four people were judged by the society as immoral persons so the people of the town ordered them to leave the town.
After being exiled from their town, the four people embark on a journey to reach another camp which was less respectable compared to the Poker Flat. In course of their journey, they decide to halt at a place to take rest, where they are joined by Tom Simson and Piney Woods, young lovers who have eloped from their homes. Owing to a snowstorm and stealing of mules by Uncle Billy, all of them are forced to stay in a cabin discovered by Simson. It is during their stay in the cabin, that the virtuous qualities of the four outcasts are revealed.
Although the outcasts behaved in a manner which was unacceptable to their society, they strove hard to protect the lives of the young lovers. Being at the mercy of nature, the outcasts struggled to keep them alive with the aid of the rations available in the cabin. Mother Shipton sacrifices her life to save Piney by leaving her rations for Piney. “It contained Mother Shipton’s rations for the last week, untouched. “Give ’em to the child,” she said, pointing to the sleeping Piney. ” (Harte 30).
By giving her life for the sake of saving Piney, Mother Shipton reveals her virtuous quality. The same virtuous quality of the outcasts is presented in the story when Piney and The Duchess hold each other and sleep peacefully. The snow covers them and the author describes this happening in a manner which represents the purity of The Duchess and Piney. “Feathery drifts of snow, shaken from the long pine boughs, flew like white-winged birds, and settled about them as they slept. ” (Harte 31). The white-winged birds are symbolic of virtue and purity.
In their death, Piney and The Duchess looked so peaceful that it was hard to point out who was the sinner and who was innocent. “And when pitying fingers brushed the snow from their wan faces, you could scarcely have told from the equal peace that dwelt upon them which was she that had sinned. ” (Harte 32). The snow washed away all the sins of the outcasts. Through the symbolism in the story, the author brings forth the virtues of the outcasts who were exiled from their community for improper behavior.
The snowstorm aids in revealing the virtues of the outcasts and the snow expunges the distinction between the sinner and the innocent. The snow in the story is symbolic of the purity of the outcasts. Conclusion The story “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” by Bret Harte depicts the journey of the four outcasts who are considered to be improper individuals by the people of the town. But their virtuous qualities are revealed when in course of their journey, they make every effort to save the lives of young lovers.
Being held back in their journey by the snowstorm, the outcasts and the lovers stay in a cabin surviving on the rations available there. One of the outcasts, Mother Shipton sacrifices her life to save Piney from death. Her sacrifice brings forth her virtue which was overlooked by the people of the town. Similarly, the virtue of The Duchess is exposed when in death she looks similar to the Piney who was pure and innocent. The snow in the story is a symbol which represents the purity and virtue of the outcasts.
Harte, Bret. Selected Stories of Bret Harte. BiblioBazaar LLC. 2006.