What impression does Pollock give the reader of the Native characters as they are introduced in the play Walsh? Specifically, are these characters stereotypical? Explain.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Sharon Pollock's play Walsh, the question of stereotypical characters needs to be examined from a social and historical perspective. Stereotype is defined as...

... a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group

Native Americans in American history are shown as noble warriors or shifty and even often inebriated, broken individuals.

In this play, we see the "Native characters" as any human beings: they are shown to be proud and fearless warriors, people devoted to each other—in particular, their families—and even as undesirable characters: not stereotypical.

Often we learn about specific characters by studying others around them. James Walsh sees the Indians as equals. He disregards a difference between himself and Indians: skin color means nothing to him. Walsh sees Indians as people, not as "aliens" in his country. When an Indian named Crow Eagle (and others) steal a metal washing tub from Mrs. Anderson, Walsh does not throw them in jail: he makes them pay for the tub in buffalo skins and a monetary fine. Harry (the wagon master) also speaks well of the Indians, telling Clarence:

You think a white man's the only person kin know anythin' for sure!

Historically, the Sioux fought with the English against the Americans in 1776. Gall (a Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux) reports that his grandfather fought with Queen Victoria's grandfather (George III) against the American colonies. Walsh's response:

We are your friends, that is true...

When one of the Sioux warriors (called White Dog, described in the stage directions as a coward) is accused by Walsh of being a horse thief, he is "antagonistic" and argumentative—he even threatens Walsh:

Meet again, Wichitas!

Walsh challenges him to take back his implied threat. Looking to Sitting Bull, he responds:

White Dog not threaten.

A common stereotype of Indians sometimes regarded them as cowards in their attacks of settlers, etc., but White Dog is an exception in the play. From the start, Sitting Bull is a man of integrity: he knows that to be allowed to live in Canada, he must follow the laws of the British government. When Walsh warns that "raiding" will not be tolerated, Sitting Bull asks for ammunition so his men might hunt to feed his people.

We see Sitting Bull as a man of conscience: when he recounts the death of Crazy Horse at the hands of a "Long Knife" (American) soldier, he is not hurt as much over the man's death, but first by the comments by the whites:

There stood a good Indian, a dead Indian.

...and also with the manner—he was stabbed in the stomach (a wound that causes a slow and agonizing death) and sang his death song alone: his parents were not allowed to sit at his side, but were forced to sing along outside.

In the Sioux's time at Fort Walsh, the Sioux follow every rule of the territory. When Sitting Bull's people begin to starve, a leader who loves his people asks for help, but Walsh is unable to give him aid. Sitting Bull tells Clarence:

But my heart grows weak and trembles when I hear the little children cry for food...It is a hard thing.

Ultimately, with no other choice, Sitting Bull takes his people back to the States, and (like Crazy Horse) he is killed. Whatever stereotypes are at times assigned by society, Sitting Bull is purposely (we can infer) presented as a man like any other. Others show the varying dynamics of human beings, regardless of race.