What is the purpose of the first scene in Act One of Walsh by Sharon Pollock in which Clarence is introduced? What are his primary characteristics?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Pollock's Walsh, Clarence might represent the multitudes who believed the stories told about Sitting Bull and the Sioux nation: that they could not be trusted, that they were murderers without souls...for this is the propaganda spread about Custer–the annihilator, murderer of peaceful men, and their families...a socially-accepted agent of genocide.

When we first meet Clarence, we understand that he is a new recruit. He is almost eager that there might be an Indian War in Canada, and that he might play an important role in it:

The Sioux are headed north...An Injun War!...I could get to kill the man who killed Custer.

Wisely, Harry points out that there is no proof that Sitting Bull himself killed Custer. Clarence defensively points out perhaps the most critical problem in the play: perception.

Well...everybody says so! It was Sittin' Bull himself killed Custer at the Little Big Horn–with his huntin' knife!

But after Clarence thinks about it a moment, he realizes that the only ones who would be certain of what actually occurred would be those who died with Custer at the place the Sioux called Greasy Grass.

As the story continues, Clarence begins to see the life of the Indians in a much different way. When the Nez Perces make their way into the Northwest Territory when they are stationed, Clarence is devastated to find that a woman riding in carrying a baby (who he goes to wrap in a warm coat) has been shot, and she and her baby are dead.

The idealistic youth cannot believe that the Americans are burning the border every ten miles to drive the buffalo away from the Canadian border, primarily so the reservation Indians can hunt and the Americans won't have to feed them. However, he realizes that the Sioux will not be able to hunt and will, therefore, die. It is a different person than the young man we first met, who says:

...what about out Indians?...I don't believe it! It ain't fair [...] They're people, aren't they? You don't let people starve to death, do you?

As the Sioux begin to starve, Clarence sneaks food into their camp for Sitting Bull's son, Crowfoot. He meets Sitting Bull as he enters the their camp and gives his knapsack to the chief:

...some things from the mess, sir. I'd like the little boy to have them.

When Sitting Bull comes to Walsh to beg for food and (under orders from his government) he cannot help, both men are driven to desperation. Sitting Bull draws his knife and Walsh knocks the chief to the floor. Clarence cries out:


As Walsh prepares to depart for a leave of absence, Clarence asks him if he might speak on behalf of the Sioux nation.

I was just wondered if you couldn't go up to Ottawa and tell the Prime Minister how things are. I'd make a difference. You'd make him do something.

This, at last, is the idealistic young man we met at the start: the world is black and white for him. He believes in the goodness of people: he strongly admires Walsh for all he stands for and all he has tried to do. He believes that Walsh can fix things with the government, though Walsh knows differently. Clarence also believes that the Prime Minister will act if he can only hear the right words: this, too, Walsh knows will never happen.

Later, it is Clarence that shares the news of Sitting Bull's death, as well as that of his young son: both murdered. Stage direction notes that when Clarence stops, his "anger is spent." His perception has changed, but reality has also revealed itself to him.

Karyth Cara eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Clarence is actually introduced in the Prologue, which flows unbrokenly into Act I, scene i in which Clarence reappears and participates in action and dialogue whereas he is only a phantom seen in Walsh's slightly drunken mind in the Prologue. Clarence's primary characteristics, as shown during his early conversation with Harry, are clumsiness, credulity (believing anything heard) and cowardice or fearfulness:

   Do you believe it?
   Don't see why it couldn't be true.
   Aren't you scared?
   Now, why'd I be scared?