In Pollock's Walsh, what is the symbolic significance of the fake Native attacks & Mountie rescues that Walsh stages for the entertainment of the Easterners on the train at the end of the play?...

In Pollock's Walsh, what is the symbolic significance of the fake Native attacks & Mountie rescues that Walsh stages for the entertainment of the Easterners on the train at the end of the play? Why does Pollock specify that Walsh uses toy soldiers?

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Pollock's play Walsh, the staged attack and rescue Walsh has planned for the Easterners is both sad and ironic. And it is important that he plans it out using toy soldiers. It speaks to the difference between what is believed about the Northwest Territory and the Indians (as they are referred to in the play) and the truth.

One of Walsh's greatest frustrations became his inability to help Sitting Bull and his people, and his sense of betrayal by his own government. In one of his letters to his wife, Mary, Walsh notes:

An able and brilliant people have been crushed, held down, moved from place to place, cheated and lied to...And now, they hold on here in Canada, the remnants of a proud race, and they ask for some sort of justice...which is what I thought I swore an oath to serve!

In the scene in question, Sitting Bull has been forced to return to the States so his people can be fed—or so have promised the U.S. government officials. After a leave of absence, Walsh returns and is planning a show for those who travel through the area. The idea of Indians attacking addresses the stereotypes held by those in the East. The ability of the Mounted Police to fend off their attacks (there were none) is also inaccurate for this also has never happened: Walsh tried with every fiber of his being to help them, not fight them. 

The toy soldiers most likely represent Walsh's sense of being manipulated like a toy...or a pawn. Recall MacLeod's comments to Walsh when he chastises him for contacting the U.S. Army (sixty miles South) to exchange stolen ponies from each territory, ignoring official channels.


You play chess...Sometimes a pawn is sacrificed on one side of the board to gain an advantage on the other.

WALSH:  in disbelief

I am a pawn?


No, no, Jim..not you...It might be possible to consider Sitting Bull and the Sioux as pawns.

It is safe to assume that by the end of the play, Walsh feels that he has been a pawn: manipulated by his government to do what is politically advantageous to establish good relations with the U.S.

By the end of the play, prior to learning Sitting Bull's fate, Walsh is now doing his best to be a good soldier, following the party line and providing his government whatever inane service it wants, such as entertaining passengers on the new railroad. It is nothing like the noble work he did with the indigenous people of Canada and the visiting Sioux. For a time he was able to mete out justice. He made a difference in the lives of other human beings, despite the way the rest of the territory or the U.S. perceived them. To Walsh, they were people in need.

He is convinced his government has deceived him:

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

So now he lives the lie as his government demands. He plans to provide all the stereotypical behavior given to Indians for the sake of entertainment:

...war whoops...full-blooded Indian yells [...] ...yelling bloody murder...we'll scare the pants off everyone of them.

When Clarence interrupts the preparations for the show, he reports the murder (by Indian Police) of Sitting Bull and his young son. Walsh's sense of betrayal is complete: Sitting Bull accepted the white men's lies and his fate was the same as Crazy Horse—as the Lakota Sioux chief had foreseen.

In the Prologue, Walsh has left the force and now is the Commissioner of the Yukon. He was used as a pawn, as was his friend, Sitting Bull.