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John Oakhurst in “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” by Harte Essay

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Updated: Nov 21st, 2021

John Oakhurst is one of the brightest characters depicted in “The Outcast of Poker Flat”. The novel is about four protagonists who were exiled by the townspeople because of their immoral behavior and habits. Having been declared the refuse of the society, John, the drunkard Uncle Billy, and two prostitutes were forced to search for a better life. I was attracted by the description of Mr. Oakhurst, a gambler whose life was like a game, on the one hand, and a person who was able to overcome difficulties and accomplish courageous deeds, on the other hand.

John Oakhurst was always in control of his own life so that he never believed in fate. His calmness and courage made me reconsider his actual moral values. The story justifies that he was rather a brave person who was not afraid to face the reality of being too much of a gambler to accept it. John considered his life like a game that divided people into leaders and losers. This is proved by many details described in the story. Thus, he revealed his audacity when he together with the travelers was trapped in the show storm. Being in a critical situation, he was the first who tried to calm down and cheer up the others. If to consider this character more properly, I could not but accept that John can be also regarded as the embodiment of nobility and modesty. These phenomenal traits were revealed in many situations that he successfully overcame. His sympathy with Mother Shipton and other outcasts was the brightest testimony of his goodness. Hence, irrespective of the townspeople’s prejudiced outlook about morality, he might be regarded as an ideal image of the actual leader who was always in control of the situation.

To add to his noble features, Mr. Oakhurst did not drink, since the presence of mind and his impassionate character did not afford him to do that. His moderate character is not typical of a gambler who got accustomed to risky situations. That is why, I feel that John Oakhurst was a complex person who, like all people, had both the very vices and cardinal virtues. In addition, he was reluctant in showing his sentiments in public, which, I believe, is the quality of a real gentleman but not of a card shark.

Further, John may be also regarded as a person of strong character. Being a gambler, he has a wild card character since he was empowered to control his own destiny and the destinies of others. Thus, his decision to save Penny was a kind of a calling of his fate. The strength of his character did not allow him to reveal his feelings otherwise, it would mean a disaster for him. Therefore, he committed suicide since he had no other way out. To show his weakness and his inability to monitor his life was unacceptable. At first sight, the death might also constitute his incapability to show that there were events that were beyond his power. However, I feel that he died because of pride and of unwillingness to recognize that he “struck a streak of bad luck”. Therefore, on the one hand, Mr. Oakhurst may be considered as the strongest and weakest character at the same time. The story ends with a symbolic phrase that characterized his major human qualities:

And pulseless and cold, with a Derringer by his side and a bullet in his heart, though still calm as in life, beneath the snow, lay he who was at once the strongest and yet the weakest of the outcast of Poker face. (Harte, 44).

He was the strongest one because he decided to sacrifice himself for the sake of others and the weakest one since he shot himself instead of waiting for other arrivals to come.

The story, in which John was doomed to be the refusal of the society, testifies that the townspeople lost a veritable notion about cardinal virtues and formed their attitudes relying on their first impressions. In this respect, the author intends to prove to their readers that appearances are deceptive. Considering Oakhurst and another outcast the “improper persons” proves that their morality left much to be desired. So, John was the only one who was aware of the change of the moral atmosphere in Poker flat. I believe that his death was a kind of protest against its narrow local prejudice. Moreover, the fact of escape differentiated the travelers from the ordinary and primitive townspeople who were subjected to predictability and stereotypes.

Based on the above, I can judge, that Mr. Oakhurst could be regarded as the picture of morality rather than the refuge of the society. The story shows the opposite and breaks the outlooks set by the townspeople whose narrowness defined their attitude toward others who did not conform to their norms. The travelers described as exiles were the ones who managed to cognate the real human morale and John was the person who initiated the changes and who was keen on revealing the actual norms of morality.

Works Cited

Harte, Bret. The outcasts of Poker Flat.US: Dramatic Publishing, 1968.

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