The Outcasts of Poker Flat

The Outcasts of Poker Flat Literary Elements


Regionalism, Western

Setting and Context

Poker Flat, California; Late 1800s gold rush era

Narrator and Point of View

Third-person omniscient

Tone and Mood

Fatalistic, desolate, Darwinian, ironic, foreboding

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: John Oakhurst, Antagonist: Chance, Fate

Major Conflict

The conflict of the story revolves around whether the group of exiles will survive despite the forces at work against them (winter, starvation, Poker Flat, chance, fate, Uncle Billy, etc.)


The story lacks a traditional climax, but the discovery of John Oakhurst's grave serves as an anti-climax at the story's close.


-The refrain sung by the group, "I’m proud to live in the service of the Lord, And I’m bound to die in His army," is foreboding, as the characters will indeed die.
-The castanets that Tom plays foreshadow the party's demise.
-The recurring theme of poker, chance, and fortune throughout the story (the town's name is Poker Flat, John Oakhurst is a professional gambler, Tom Simson wants to seek his fortune, etc.) lends the story a foreboding sense that the characters' luck will run out.
-Tom Simson's nickname, The Innocent, foreshadows the wrongful demise of the rather innocent exiles in the mountains.




-Tom recounts the story of the Iliad, an epic poem written by Homer describing the Trojan War.
-The exiles' luck turns pivotally on the third day of their stay in the mountain pass when it continues to snow, a reference to the biblical timeline of Jesus' resurrection, which occurs on the "third day."


See Imagery section of this ClassicNote.





Metonymy and Synecdoche

-"A body of armed men accompanied the deported wickedness of Poker Flat to the outskirts of the settlement" (Narrator).


-"As the shadows crept slowly up the mountain, a slight breeze rocked the tops of the pine-trees, and moaned through their long and gloomy aisles" (Narrator).
-"A suspicion leaped to his brain and a curse to his lips" (Narrator).
-"I fear that a certain defiant tone and Covenanter’s swing to its chorus, rather than any devotional quality, caused it speedily to infect the others, who at last joined in the refrain" (Narrator).
-"The pines rocked, the storm eddied and whirled above the miserable group, and the flames of their altar leaped heavenward, as if in token of the vow" (Narrator).
-"The third day came, and the sun, looking through the white-curtained valley, saw the outcasts divide their slowly decreasing store of provisions for the morning meal...Its rays diffused a kindly warmth over the wintry landscape, as if in regretful commiseration of the past" (Narrator).
-"When night crept up again through the gorges, the reedy notes of the accordion rose and fell in fitful spasms and long-drawn gasps by the flickering camp-fire" (Narrator).
-"Feathery drifts of snow, shaken from the long pine-boughs, flew like white-winged birds, and settled about them as they slept" (Narrator).