Sylvester is the central focus of The Indian Lawyer. The other characters in the novel exist primarily as foils; they illuminate aspects of Sylvester through their interaction with him.
Sylvester is a man of both physical and intellectual prowess who is accustomed to achieving his goals. From the basketball court to the courtroom, Sylvester’s victories have been of heroic proportion. He is never sure whether he competes for his own glory or for the sake of the tribe and race he always represents but from which his success has made him feel detached. This distance between Sylvester and his people creates a sense of loneliness that is the hero’s tragic flaw. Giving way to the temptations of Patti Ann is a mistake that costs Sylvester his biggest game, the congressional election. His defeat strengthens him, however, and the novel suggests that the Indian lawyer has regained his sense of cultural mission by joining the Sioux’s legal battle.
Jack Harwood is not a typical convict. He is more intelligent and compassionate than his fellow inmates. His fascination with the concepts of crime and punishment, not a truly criminal nature, seems to have led him to prison. Subject to the harshness of incarceration, Jack gradually loses his strength and assuredness until he is reduced to the role of a cornered animal. Flashbacks to better times, to the days when he was able to protect himself from prison predators—or, better still, to his...
(The entire section is 477 words.)