From the beginning moments in the story of The Outcasts of Poker Flat, starting when there is talk in the town of Poker Flat about plans to rid the community of improper persons gambling main character, John Oakhurst, contained himself and remained cool and collected about the situation he was becoming aware of. Bret Harte’s use of voice portrays a calming effect for the reader that lessens the dramatic upsets of the situations in the story being told. The town of Poker Flat was determined to get rid of a specific four characters who were cause for trouble and harm to the community, the expert gambler John Oakhurst, a prostitute referred to as “The Duchess”, the owner of a brothel whom they called “Mother Shipton”, and a suspected thief and drunk “Uncle Billy”. Throughout the story multiple situations arise among the characters that are cause for distress and concern, but the voice Harte uses to tell the story reduces the concern of the readers.
Once the outcasts are escorted out of town and heading to the next town, Sandy Bar, John Oakhurst had already began to realize that their journey was going to be long and difficult with four of them traveling. When The Duchess halted their travels demanding that they stop and set up camp for the evening, Mr. Oakhurst calmly informed his fellow travelers that it was not in their best interest to stop traveling so early. As readers, knowing that he has some concern of the situation taking place, we are thrown off by his patience and consideration for the rest of his party. If the narrator would have described his concern with more aggression and emotion we would probably gain even more concern for the situation the characters are encountering.
After Mr. Oakhurst and his party stop to set up camp for the night Tom Simson, who was named “The Innocent” from Sandy Bar, and his fifteen-year-old lover Piney Woods, came upon them. All of the traveling characters were to sleep at the established camp and continue on their own ways in the morning. The narrator describes that Mr. Oakhurst is a light sleeper, and that he awoke cold to freshly fallen snow. Mr. Oakhurst’s immediate reaction is worrisome, but because of Harte’s language in paragraph 18, using “He started to his feet…” instead of a description of promptness, his reaction is immediately down-played and the readers concern depreciates. Immediately after we get a short glimpse of the worry in Mr. Oakhurst, the next paragraph offers to us, “The momentary excitement brought Mr. Oakhurst back to the fire with his usual calm.” Harte immediately tears the negative emotion from the text and continues on. Even though Mr. Oakhurst knows that Uncle Billy left the camp and was never coming back, he kept the truth to himself as to not upset the others.
The calm and collected personality is not only present in Mr. Oakhurst but also in other characters as well, Tom Simson is also portrayed as keeping calm. Once they have all noticed the snow, and that it was not going to stop, Tom thinks positively and has a basic plan developed, they stay and camp a week and then continue traveling once the snow melts. Tom doesn’t lead on that he is worried in any way, or concerned about their lives, he knows they will make it out. The rest of the party even hides their concern and worry, and make entertainment for themselves by singing and conversing around the fire. Whether the singing and talking is to cover up their concern, or to take their mind of their concern, Harte tells the story in a certain way so that the reader won’t worry so much.
Once the characters had been at camp a week, come and gone, the snow had still not subsided but had grown closer around them and towered high above them. Harte diffuses the concern during this situation by reinstating Mr. Oakhurst’s calm and collected personality, in paragraph 26 he writes “Mr. Oakhurst settled himself coolly to the losing game before him.” Even then, Mr. Oakhurst is remaining calm and accepting the fate that has been drawn upon him and the others.
Mother Shipton is another character who does not lead on that she is scared or worried in any way throughout the story. Harte doesn’t introduce Mother Shipton for awhile, but when he does she carries a very mellow, carefree personality. Towards the end of the story she became very sick very fast and in paragraph 26 told Mr. Oakhurst, “I’m going…but don’t say anything about it…” even then Harte uses a voice with short description and choice of words that does not directly mention death or dying, which minimizes our concern for Mother Shipton. She has starved herself and left her portion of the food for Tom’s lover, Piney, this shows us that she was very aware that she would not survive the journey once the snow came and she secretly held her distress inside.
Being stranded, entrapment, starvation and death are very serious circumstances, but throughout The Outcasts of Poker Flat we, as readers, are not made to feel the concern and upsets that the characters are feeling inside. Even though many of the harmful situations in the story are those that could be dramatized and could deeply envelop the reader, Harte used distinctive word choices and a passive voice through the tense situations in the story help to keep a cool, composed tone throughout.