The conflict between good and evil is one of the most common conventional themes in literature. In fact, all literature, in its simplest form, is a struggle between good and evil. This statement simplifies the idea that all themes and struggles in literature, when broken down into their most basic forms, are conflicts between good and evil. This conflict can be divided into two ways, an external conflict and an internal conflict. In the matter of one’s life, he will consistently face this battle of the balance of internal good and evil in his life. Many times evil wins the battle and draws the individual down the wrong pathway in life. Even though evil won, does not mean that internal good is forever lost. Human beings, regardless of their background, have innate tendencies to perform acts of goodness and nurturing. This concept is depicted in many American literature works. Although the characters may be diversely different, the underlying theme of hidden goodness is portrayed by many literary characters in various forms or deeds. In Bret Harte’s short story, “The Outcasts of Poker Flat,” the story’s symbolism depicted the outlaws’ tumultuous backgrounds; however, the outlaws overcame the shadiness of their present lives and displayed their inner goodness by trying to help a younger couple survive. In the novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, Huck’s life experiences in the South exposed his inner goodness for equal treatment of everyone regardless of race. Finally, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne turned around her public punishment of the scarlet letter into a positive outcome, developing her true inner self as a mother and as part of the surrounding community.
In the “Outcasts of Poker Flat,” the town of Poker Flat threw the outcasts out of the town to try to maintain a utopian society. John Oakhurst was the man who prompted the outrage of the society by winning money gambling. Also portrayed were the Duchess, a prostitute; Mother Shipton, a prostitute; and Uncle Billy, a drunk and thief. All four of them represented the moral ills that Poker Flat deemed worthy of exile. The town believed that the outcasts were a poison to their society by all the immoral acts they committed, and by throwing them out they would experience a moral cleansing. This was unfair to the outcasts because as we know everyone is created equally. Even though they are perceived as immoral, they have the ability, just like anyone else, to bring about good in the town. The inner goodness of the outcasts was brought out by the young couple of Tom Simson and Piney Woods. These two brought light to the lives of the outcasts with their music and storytelling while they were trapped in the storm. In a way, Tom and Piney represent what Poker Flat wanted, a utopia. With Uncle Billy gone, the outcasts were able to rise to Tom and Piney’s expectations. Under the right influences of Tom and Piney, they discovered their real qualities.
By being a gambler, John Oakhurst’s life was at best a game. He took risks in his life that could decide the fate of himself or the fate of another. Oakhurst could have abandoned his fellow outcasts with the snow shoes he built, but gave them to Tom for the greater good of the couple. “Mr. Oakhurst took the Innocent aside, and showed him a pair of snow-shoes, which he fashioned from the old pack saddle” (Harte 18). He gave them to Tom so he could reach Poker Flat and get help for Piney. Oakhurst’s final gamble claimed his own life. By giving the shoes to Tom, Oakhurst played his last game and as a result gambled his life, a true act of kindness. He realized that the young couple had more potential to succeed in their lives because they were able to bring about the inner goodness of the outcasts. By trying to save them, he was doing both him and society a favor. Before leaving his companions at the cabin, he provided them with a few days worth of fuel to heat the cabin...
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