Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King as a Revival of Indians Cultural Heritage

In the everyday life people often deal with the duality of forms and perceptions. On the primary level, we manage the oral and the written speech. In addition, on the psychological level of self-awaresness the individuals divide the communicative surrounging into We and Them. Moreover, the social level has the duality of rulling elite and common class. Afterwards, there are contradistinctions between nationalities, religions, and cultures. The number of oppositions form our life and identify the personal worldview. Therefore, contrasting different lifestyles is profitably used in literature for creating the witty and playful flow of narration. One of the vivid examples of the circular and oppositional narrative is the novel of the Canadian writter Thomas King Green Grass, Running Water. The author depicts in his work the world of existential duality and cyclical nature of cultural development through the native storytelling techniques, irony of Christian biblical narratives and images, and circular narrative of the Sun Dance ceremony.


The novel starts with the story of the world creation. Instead of presenting the biblical foundation of the Earth together with the Heaven, Thomas King exploits the Indian motif: In the beginning, there was nothing. Just the water. Coyote was there, but Coyote was asleep. The author implies that Native Indian culture precedes Christianity and is the true one. This is obvious in the portrayal of the main hero, Coyote as God, the world creator. According to Jane Flick, Coyote embodies the trickster figure from ... Native American tales. He is a symbol of the mythological pre-human, the representative of the First People with supernatural powers. Due to Indian legends, these prototypes established the life institutions and the culture. Therefore, King builds his narrative in the way that any movement or deed of Coyote changes the whole course of event in the novel and affects the lives of the main heroes. The first interaction takes place with Coyote Dream, the creation of his mind. Coyote Dream is a separate personage who wants to be the same as Coyote: I am very smart, too, says that Dream. I must be Coyote. With the help of dialogue between Coyote and the Dream, the author depicts the Canadians inner search for the self-identification and the desire to define the world around them by the familiar concepts. However, on the secondary level of the analysis, it is possible to delineate the religious and cultural duality. Donna Stach states that Thomas King diminishes the dominance of Christian God by depicting him as a dog. The author makes an anagram Dog out of the word God and positions this image as the backward dream: You cant be Coyote. But you can be a dog. Thus, King demonstrates that Christian God is just a bothersome adaptation of Coyotes thoughts and dreams. Therefore, the narrative refutes the dominance and the genuineness of Christianity and colonial culture. However, when Coyote Dream identifies itself with a dog, it gets everythihg mixed up and backwards. Consequently, a dog becomes god that does not want to remain small, but insists on being big god.

Later in the story, Thomas King capitalizes GOD to demonstrate the colonizators attempts to impose their rule through written documents and orders. In addition, the writer depicts God as self-centered and indisposed to cooperate with other characters. For instance, First Woman disapproves Dog-God of the impoliteness and acting as if you have no relations. Afterwards, the situation deteriorates in the episode about the rethought scene from the Garden of Eden, where First Woman departs from the Garden with Ahdamn, saying Coyote: there is no point have a grouchy GOD for a neighbor", but GOD takes the initiative to answer them "You can't leave because I am kicking you out.". However, in Kings novel, First Woman is the one who created the Garden, not the God. Thus, the author creates the allusion on how the invaders have displaced the indigenous inhabitants. Moreover, it becomes obvious that Christian God is just a problematic side of Coyotes thoughts in the same relation as in opposition of conquerors and civilians. Hence, Thomas King creates the sarcastic images out of biblical narratives to show that there are different possibilities to interpret the world creation and the new ways of presenting the story.

Read also: "How to write a good literature review"

At the point of Dog self-identification with the GOD, he notices the water all around and asks Coyote to explain the situation. The image of water encounters periodically through the novel and symbolizes the natural wealth of Indians, as well as the constant flow of the life. At this moment, the unidentified storyteller, called I, starts to narrate about four Native American elders who escaped from a mental institution. The number of the fugitives is symbolic for the Indians culture and it embodies the four directions: the East, the North, the West, and the South. Thomas King presents the womens trip to fix the world as the analogy to the unity of directions in opposition to the chaos. When the readers meet four Indians for the first time, the women have traditional west culture names: Lone Ranger, Ishmael, Robinson Crusoe, and Hawkeye. According to Jane Flick, King makes a pun on the traditional heroes from the western culture with adopted names. The writer plays with the recognizable male heroes of Melvilles and Defoes stories in order to make the connotation obvious to condemn the biased chauvinist coverage of events by the colonialists. The western names of escapees correlate respectively with the female heroes from Native American tradition: First Woman, Changing Woman, Thought Woman, Old Woman, and Hawkeye. During the story, women gradually reveal their ethnicity resisting the attempts of Americanization by the colonists. The vivid example of personal rights violation is calling the individuals by names from the book: Ill call you Queequeg. This book has a Queequeg in it, and this story is supposed to have a Queequeg in it. Therefore, Thomas King splits the novel into four key sections narrated by four women.

The author borrows the cyclical flow of narration from the oral storytelling traditions of the Sun Dance ceremony. The ritual includes traditional dances and songs with the drum around the fire, followed by prayers with a ceremonial pipe. Therefore, Thomas King creates various voices and speakers who tell stories. The author tells the stories with the help of heroes thoughts. This technique creates the sensation of closeness and oral speech. King engages readers in the story by phrases Are we ready? ... Perhaps Ishmael should tell the story?, Gha, Listen that are typical for oral speech. With the help of repetition and anecdotes of real people speaking, the writer reveals the heroes and makes readers to "Pay attention.". The unknown narrator I communicates closely with Coyote and encourages him to pay attention to the stories by the phrase Listen up. Coyote, in his way, clarifies the correctness of understanding: Am I missing something? ...Where were we?.

One more practice to enrich the narration flow is to create the multitude of the storytellers. Danna Stach distinguishes nine perspectives of narration: Latisha, Eli, Dr. Hovaugh, Coyote, Portland, Charlie, Lionel, Norma, and George. Personifying the Native Canadians, each character tries to reconcile his personal cultural identity. Thomas King often shuffles the perspective and imitates the Sun Dance dialogues. At the end of the Sun Dance ceremony, the writer presents the gradual mergence of narrators experiences while waiting in the circle for the dancing ritual. Moreover, Thomas King employs the narrator I for managing all perspectives in the manner of the customary native ritual. At the end of the novel, I narrator discusses with Coyote the presence of water all around and starts the story from the beginning as Coyote has doubts about the reason for the storys start. This is an allusion to the genuine right of Aborigines for the lands and the cyclical periodicity of American government in processes of partial restoration of Native Americans rights.

Apart from the cyclical flow of narration and symbolic division of story in four sections, Thomas King exploits four dominant plot lines. The first one deals with the adventures of refugees-elders and Coyote that have the mission of worlds fixation. In addition, we meet the persecutors, Doctor Joseph Hovaugh and his assistant Babo, who attempt to follow Indians. The second one tells about the love triangle, Alberta Frank, Lionel Red Dog, and Charlie Looking Bear. Next plot line involves the life path of Lionel's uncle, Eli Stands Alone. This personage lives near Blene Dam in his mother's house, which is destroyed at the end of the novel by the earthquake for the sake of waterway restoration. The fourth plot line follows the personages from Christian Biblical and Native American legends about the world creation together with such literary characters as Robinson Crusoe, Nasty Bumpo, Ahdamn and others. Thus, the writer creates the images of four directions moving to the center, which represents the Sun Dance ceremony. As a result, Thomas King undermines the western tradition of linear narrative flow in behalf of spiritual symbolism of circle in the native customs.

Tomas King also provides an example of the archetypical opposition between the Christianity and Indians. The author plays in a comic manner with the figure of Noah from the Old Testament. This is a Christian journey. And if you can't follow our Christian rules, then you're not wanted on the voyage. Just like Cod, Noah demonstrates his bad temper and the lack of manners. Tomas King criticizes the pride and the superiority of Christians in relation to other religion: This is a Christian ship. Animals don't talk. We got rules. The writer doubts the authority of Noah and the validity of Christian rules for the inhabitants spirituality.

When we provide the multi-level analysis of the stories of all narrators, it is possible to distinguish the various political and social commentaries, cultural and gender issues, stereotypical world perception by the white European patriarchic society, alteration of history by the winners who wrote the books on the past times. Thomas King makes a pun on the biased European culture in the episode about the whale. The author remakes Henry Melvilles novel about the great white male whale Moby-Dick into the story about female black whale Moby-Jane. However, the captain of the ship Pequod Ahab represents the western whalers follow the law of profit and bookish rules. Therefore, Ahab does not want to listen to Changing Womans words about the black female whale. On the contrary, the captain orders to throw overboard every member of the crew who disagrees with him about the color or the gender of the whale. Moreover, Coyote agrees with Ahab about the presence of Moby-Dick`s basing on the written history: I read the book. Its Moby-Dick, the Great white whale who destroys the Pequod. However, the author encourages the readers to analyze critically the situation and draw conclusion from their own experience: You havent been reading your history,.. Its English colonists who destroy the Pequots. Thus, Thomas King reveals the colonial practice of misappropriation of Indians possessions trough the written laws and penalization of the nonconformists. The writer achieves the global sarcastic depiction of western culture by combining the national fallacies with the religious: This is a Christian world, you know. We only kill things that are useful or things that we dont like. This phrase is also an allusion to the historical treaty between American government and the Aboriginals, which stated its validity until the natural world survives in the form of green grass and running river. However, in the novel, the colonists stop the water flow by building the dam. As a result, Thomas King exposes the illegal actions of immigrants on multiple levels, including the legislative one.

The writer also emphasizes the importance of storytelling in Aboriginal culture. As colonists often mislead Native Americans with the help of foreign laws and books, Indians recognize only their traditional oral stories as the truth: There are no truths, Coyote, I says. Only stories. Thus, Thomas King depicts in the novel typical Indian lifestyle where the knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation by the sacral storytelling tradition accompanied by dances and singing the songs. Tell me a story is a popular phrase that unites different narratives into the united flow of Indian culture. Moreover, the author demonstrates the ability of oral stories to evolve, including the new elements and images from western traditions. Consequently, the stories recreate themselves and modify the world around. Hence, every new narrative outlines the alternative reality and opportunity to abolish the historically formed stereotypical beliefs.

To conclude, Thomas King uses the circular narrative to promote the culture and oral storytelling tradition of Native Americans through mixing it with western written practices. The readers gain the unique opportunity to become the listeners and unite with the narrator I for the critical interpretation of the colonial coverage of the history. The author denounces the stereotypical worldview and the religious priority of the ruling class and debunks the logical fallacies on the cultural, religious, and gender levels. King also implies that every day starts the new story and it is not too late to change the world outlook. Every narrative embodies the traditions and native identity of the speakers. The writer demonstrates the narratives power to unite or separate the individuals. The circular narration along with the image of Indians annual return in spring and the constant flow of the water symbolizes the preservation by the Aborigines the rights for their land due to the citation from the Treaty Six Commissions as long as the sun shines and yonder river flows. Therefore, Thomas King defends the historical rights of Indians for the identity, cultural and property preservations. Natural forces and true God take the side of the spiritually developed inhabitants who protect nature as opposed to the invaders-consumers.

Related essays