Discuss the way the reader's sympathies are shaped in the play, Walsh, by Sharon Pollock.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Walsh by Sharon Pollock, our sympathies are shaped by James Walsh's dilemmas—his attempts to align his ethics with the demands of his career; his interactions with Sitting Bull; his realization that his government is unjust; and, the devastating knowledge that he can do nothing to save the Sioux chief (who has become his friend) or his people.

When Walsh enters, he finds farming equipment sent by the government for the Indians. He is disgusted for he knows these people better than his superiors:

Indians are not, and will never be, farmers!

Walsh is responsible for all living in his territory, and he is frustrated that nothing useful is being sent. We learn that Walsh is an intelligent, caring man. Much different than the person of General Custer, described in the Prologue, Walsh shows himself to be a man of fair-mindedness. When Mrs. Anderson and Crow Eagle enter, Mrs. Anderson represents the prevailing attitude of whites with regard to the Indians. Crow Eagle has taken Mrs. Anderson's second washtub to make a drum. She is furious, demanding that Walsh do something. He explains:

My job is to keep the peace and see that justice is done.

Learning she will not get her tub back, she demands:

What will you do when they murder us in our beds?

This reflects the prejudice of most whites—their complete acceptance of the mythology surrounding men like Custer. Walsh says he refuses to start a war over a tub. He does punish Crow Eagle, ordering him to pay for the tub with skins and a monetary fine, but orders that Crow Eagle gets bullets so his people can hunt for meat. Walsh is committed to do what he can to help.

For Walsh, there is no distinction between skin color: men are the same regardless of race.


I have no white friends.


...forget the colour of our skin!


Red men choke and die on white men's words!


When have my actions betrayed my words? I came to speak to you as a man and I expect the same from you! What is past is past!

Mutual trust develops between the men: the chief comes to call Walsh "White Sioux." But while the two men come to understand each other, Walsh's government (Queen Victoria's England) has no intention of caring for the Sioux—warriors that two generations before had fought for the British against the American colonists, with a promise from George III that they would always be cared for.

When General Terry of the U.S. Army arrives to speak to Sitting Bull, we clearly see how Walsh is caught between his personal ethics and the expectations of his government. Terry (supported by the British) says:

Heavy responsibility on you and me...And what's imperative...safety, progress...is the elimination of the savage.

Walsh is crushed to learn that the justice he is dedicated to serve does not exist within his government.

Honour, truth, the lot...They're just words...I gave my life to them, and they don't exist.

Walsh is finally ordered to give nothing to the Sioux to help them survive. He is forced to watch Sitting Bull return southward, over the border, so his people can eat: and he and his son are murdered by the Indian Police.

The travesty Walsh witnesses and the underserved destruction of "an able and brilliant people" breaks his spirit. In witnessing this, the audience feels sympathy for Walsh and the Sioux, and the brutality of the U.S. military, British politics, and the majority of the white population disgusts us.