- (green) grass- (running) water- the “Indian”- the Sun Dance- Coyote- the Dam- Eli’s death (and Eli himself)- the cars- technology/film/television- Charlie’s father (and his father’s false nose)- the (Wild) West- Blossom- the reserve- the Dead Dog Café
“WHERE DID THE WATER COME FROM?” said Alberta.“Where did the water come from?” said Patrolman Delano.“Where did the water come from?” said Sergeant Cereno.“Where did the water come from?” said Lionel.
Charlie’s mother Lillian tells him how “[w]ithin two years, Portland was in almost every B Western that the studio made” (165). Charlie asks “Did he ever play the lead? You know, the hero.” To which his mother replies, “He could have…But that was back before they had any Indian heroes…your father made a very good Indian (166).
Sifton and Eli: “’Besides, you guys aren't real Indians anyway. I mean, you drive cars, watch television, go to hockey games. Look at you. You're a university professor’ ‘That’s my profession. Being Indian isn’t a profession’” (155).
“Guess we’re the ones to say what’s right and what’s not right,” said the guard. “Isn’t that right?” “That’s sacred stuff,” said Amos.“No,” said the guard. “What we have here are eagle feathers.”“Sure,” said Amos. “That’s what we use.”[. . .]The border guard took a small camera out of his pocket and began taking pictures of the outfits. The skinny kid began writing on a clipboard.“We’ll be confiscating all of these materials,” the older man said, sweeping his hand across the outfits.“We need our outfits,” said Amos. “We can’t dance if we don’t have our outfits.”The older guard moved in close to Amos, smiling as he came. “I can always put you in jail, if that’s what you’d like. Is that what you’d like” (257).
“The Indian who couldn’t go home.It was a common enough theme in novels and movies. Indian leaves the traditional world of the reserve, goes to the city, and is destroyed. Indian leaves the traditional world of the reserve, is exposed to white culture, and becomes trapped between two worlds. Indian leaves the traditional world of the reserve, gets an education, and is shunned by his tribe.Indians. Indians. Indians.” (286)
“How Bursum loved his Westerns, Lionel thought. Every one the same as the others. Predictable. Cowboys looked like cowboys. Indians looked like Indians” (318).
Bursum doubted that even Lionel understood the unifying metaphor or the cultural impact The Map would have on customers, but that was alright. Lionel, at least, would be able to appreciate the superficial aesthetics and the larger visual nuances of The Map.The Map. Bursum loved the sound of it. There was a majesty to the name. He stepped back from the screens and looked at his creation. It was stupendous. It was more powerful than he had thought. It was like having the universe there on the wall, being able to see everything, being in control. […]Power and control—the essences of effective advertising—were, Bursum had decided years before, outside the range of the Indian imagination, though Charlie had made some great strides in trying to master this fundamental tenet. (140-141)
“King's literary and cultural project involves not simply a celebration of hybridity, but an informed and nuanced defence of cultural difference -- though not ‘authenticity,’ in the regressive liberal sense. Such complex cultural politics require a delicate balancing act, which King carries off in Green Grass, Running Water by complementing images of hybrid representational forms, such as the ledger art, with a more direct critique of colonial media and a consequent valorization of indigenous cultural productions like the sun dance” (Johnson 28).—from Brian Johnson’s “Plastic Shaman in the Global Village: Understanding media in Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water.”
“King's novel foregrounds the alienating, deadening effects of electric technology on the Native community. At the centre of this critique—and defining its geography—is Buffalo Bill Bursum's Map, which exposes television as the dominant form of media in the twentieth century even as it connects media to cultural imperialism. In short, the arrangement of television sets into a map of Canada and the United States on the wall of Bursum's store is the physical embodiment of McLuhan's dictum, “The medium is the message” (Johnson 28).
“Playing off the fact that the written word is considered more stable than the spoken word and off the Western propensity to believe what we read, the oral narrative strand pokes fun at what becomes the inflexibility of written texts and the superiority of the more plastic oral story-telling technique” (Bailey 43)— from Sharon Bailey’s “The Arbitrary Nature of the Story: Poking Fun at Oral and Written Authority in Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water”
“One of the major components of European and European North American storytelling traditions about colonialism is the plot that culminates in a con-quest of the Americas. Authors of these stories frequently create Native characters in order to annihilate them in their imaginations and in the texts. This literary expression of colonial domination and conquest takes the form of aging chiefs pronouncing doom on themselves and on their people, Native men first dispensing their wisdom about the landscape to white men and then dying, and defeated individuals and tribes disappearing, often voluntarily, into a dark forest. Many Native American storytellers, on the other hand, speak and write of survival and resistance as an explicit protest of colonialism and their absence, imminent or completed, in the invader's stories. However, only in the last decades of the twentieth century has the direct revision and subversion of colonial literatures emerged as a popular narrative strategy for Native American authors. . . . Thomas King, for example, incorporates his critique into his story with intensive revisions and subversions of narratives that plot a Native American absence. King's strategy suggests that any understanding of colonialism in the Americas must involve familiarity with both Native American and European/European North American storytelling traditions. His fiction, in addition, mediates between cultures and belief systems while simultaneously privileging cultures and belief systems historically marginalized by the invading culture's exclusive and dominative discourses” (219-220)— from James Cox’s “All This Water Imagery Must Mean Something: Thomas King's Revisions of Narratives of Domination and Conquest in Green Grass, Running Water”
“The lives of King’s characters are entangled in and informed by both the colonial legacy in the Americas and the narratives that enact and enable colonial domination. King begins to extricate his characters’ lives from the domination of the invader's discourses by weaving their stories into both Native American oral traditions and into revisions of some of the most damaging narratives of domination and conquest: European American origin stories and national myths, canonical literary texts, and popular culture texts such as John Wayne films. These revisions are acts of narrative decolonization” (Cox 221).
“Coyote's words dare readers to attempt to contain the water in a single interpretation, but the water ebbs and flows and shifts meanings depending on the literary and cultural contexts. The flow of the water in the European/ European North American stories primarily carries men seeking to control the world. Conversely, the water in the Native American stories catches the women who fall from the sky and supports them, with the help of animals, as they create the world. Though it is a fluid symbol, the water signifies conflicting worldviews and narrative trends in the stories King constructs and rewrites: the water carries either the threat of domination and doom in Noah's canoe, Ahab's ship, or a flotilla of used cars with oddly familiar names, for example, or female Native American creators who resist all forms of domination”(Cox 229-230).
“The white Canadian looks at the Indian. The Indian is Other and therefore alien. But the Indian is indigenous and therefore cannot be alien. So the Canadian must be alien. But how can the Canadian be alien within Canada?“There are only two possible answers. The white culture can attempt to incorporate the Other, superficially through beaded moccasins and names like Mohawk Motors, . . . Conversely, the white culture may reject the indigene: ‘This country really began with the arrival of the white.’ This is no longer an openly popular alternative, but its historical importance is reflected in things like the ‘native societies’ that existed in all three countries in the late nineteenth century, societies to which no non-white, no matter how native, need have applied. . . .In their need to become ‘native,’ to belong here, whites in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have adopted a process which I have termed ‘indigenization.’ A peculiar word, it suggests the impossible necessity of becoming indigenous.”— from Terry Goldie’s The Image of the Indigene (above qtd. In Tiffin and Griffith’s The Post-Colonial Studies Reader)
“But rather than a journey of discovery, I would suggest human life as the measure [of the growth/development of Native literature) and that Native literature is almost past its youthful idealistic and angry stage. . . . Native literature is no longer shouting loudly, ‘Look at me!’, but is now also taking time to consider just what it can do to heal its community”— from the Preface to the Third Edition of Daniel David Moses & Terry Goldie’s An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English
“[M]ainstream ancient Greek culture had tricksters, mainstream ancient Roman culture had tricksters, mainstream European culture in the middle ages had tons of tricksters. It seems to be the Christian church in the post-Renaissance age that really tried to defeat the trickster. There are some trickster saints in the Roman Catholic traditions, but nobody ever talks about them. It’s as though modern Europe wanted to get rid of anything that couldn’t be reduced to good and bad. You’re never sure what the trickster is going to do next, whether what he’s going to do might be perceived by the audience or the characters involved as good and bad. . . . Native culture isn’t concerned with good or bad, it’s concerned with harmony.”— Goldie on the trickster figure (also from The Anthology)
“Post-colonial might be an excellent term to use to describe Canadian literature, but it will not do to describe Native literature. . . . As a Native writer, I lean towards terms such as tribal, interfusional, polemical, and associational to describe the range of Native writing. I prefer these terms for a variety of reasons: they tend to be less centred and do not, within the terms themselves, privilege one culture over another; they avoid the sense of progress in which primitivism gives way to sophistication, suggesting as it does that such movement is both natural and desirable; they identify points on a cultural and literary continuum for native literature which do not depend on anomalies such as the arrival of Europeans in North America or the advent of non-Native literature in this hemisphere.”— From Tom King’s essay “Godzilla vs. Post-colonial” (anthologized in Sugars’sUnhomely States)
“Unless I was sleeping during the revolution, we have not had a change in our condition, at least not the Indigenous people of this land. Post-colonialism presumes we have resolved the colonial condition, at least in the field of literature. Even here we are still a classical colony. Our words, our sense and use of language are not judged b the standards set by the poetry and stories we create. They are judged by the standards set by others”— from Lee Maracle’s essay “The ‘Post-Colonial’ Imagination” (also available in the Sugars anthology).
“Part of our colonial condition is that we are still too busy struggling in the whirl of it, paddling through the rapids of it, to be able to enter the dreamspace at the edge of it. Few of us have had the time to study our remember story. Some have no memories to ponder. But those of us who have pondered our memorized stories know we have a criteria for story.If the speaker achieves oneness with the listener, it’s a good story.If the listener is empowered to move to this dreamspace, and re-imagine his/herself, it’s a good story.If the listener is empowered to move to this dreamspace and re-imagine oneness with humanity, earth, flora and fauna, it’s a good story.If the story enters the world from the dreamspace where all good stories are born, it’s a good story.There are my culture’s standards—conscious and unconscious—and until they become standards alongside yours, colonialism in literature will prevail.”— Maracle (see previous slide for biblio data).
“Postcolonial Indigenous thought should not be confused with postcolonial theory in literature. Although they are related endeavours, postcolonial Indigenous thought also emerges from the inability of Eurocentric theory to deal with the complexities of colonialism and its assumptions. Postcolonial Indigenous thought is based on our pain and our experiences, and it refuses to allow others to appropriate this pain and these experiences. It rejects the use of any Eurocentric theory or its categories.” — from Marie Battiste’s essay “Unfolding the Lessons of Colonization” (also from the Sugars anthology)
So much of this novel is about getting the story right, and of attempting to “fix” the world. What capacity do fiction writers have for “fixing” the world?
How do stories figure into colonial and postcolonial discourse? Why do individuals, family, groups, communities, nations tell stories in the first place? Discuss the power of storytelling (think in terms of both positive and negative aspects).
Green grass running water is written in an interesting way. Each person's story is told separately, but they are all interconnected. I find that to fully understand everything a great amount of attention and focus must be payed to each individual aspect of the story. I think it makes the read more interesting than having a chronological, step by step story. What do you think about the way the story is told? do you think it makes it more interesting/enjoyable? do you think it makes the story more difficult to read? —Sadie G.
In the novel “Green Grass, Running Water” by Thomas King, the reader gets a clear understanding of the importance of storytelling. Each character has a story that unfolds throughout the novel, some intertwining and others remaining distinctly individual. There is an added depth to the novel by the storytelling of the old Indians, as well as the narrator “I” and the trickster Coyote. While each story is told from a different perspective, I found that it was difficult for most of the characters to have a fluid conversation. There are many times when two characters are in conversation with each other, but both seem to be following a different stream of consciousness. One example of this disjointed communication is in the following passage: “Don’t know that I want to hear New Zealand,” said Eli. “Norma says you’re coming out to the Sun Dance.” “You don’t have to listen to New Zealand. You can listen to France.” “I thought maybe I’d go this year. Thought you might like to come along.” “It’s fairly expensive. It just depends on what you want” (King 300).Did the ineffective communication between some of the characters have an effect on your reading of the novel? Why do you think King uses this type of conversation in his work? What does it symbolize/represent? — Cassandra W.
From the title of the book “Green Grass, Running Water”, I presumed the book would be filled with symbolism, particularly towards water. The symbol of water, as we’ve discussed previously, has many meanings. The idea that the flow of water is always moving and never ending can symbolize culture and how it plays a predominate role in society. Also, the breaking of the dam as well is symbolic for the way western society has restricted Indian culture (aboriginals), drowning them, and leaving them as an insecure population. Additionally, the novel is known for its unique use of oral and written literary traditions. In a way, water can represent story telling and the “flow” of the story. What other types of symbols have you found in the story? In what ways are they used to enhance/develop the story? —Kiran U.
I love the way that Thomas King weaves narratives together. He uses the techniqueof intertextuality to blend stories and history (loosely), including the background of each of the characters, Biblical stories, and traditional Native American stories. In some senses this can be seen as a pastiche (a combination of genres to create a unique story) or, perhaps, magic realism. Do you think that these Postmodern techniques add to the story, or detract? Can you think of any other literary techniques that jump out from the story? — Julia W.
Pair up with a partner, and exchange your work. Making use of the handout provided in class, revise your partner’s work for grammatical errors, but also focus on content. In addition to the questions on the handout, ask yourself: Is the introduction structured effectively? Does the introduction provide a sense of the main points covered in the essay? Does the introduction draw you in? Is the thesis statement clear, original, and contestable? Also read over the first body paragraph, and ask: is the paragraph well-structured? Does it contain a clear topic sentence and controlling idea? Are the quotes effectively integrated?Once you have shared your work with a partner and completed the activity, put your hand up and I’ll come work with you. Once I’ve seen your work, it might be a good idea to show other members of your group.Notes: If you do not have your first page with you, then it might be a good idea to get started on it here. Finally, please hand in the exercise during our last class (so that you can use it to revise your work, and so that I can provide you with extra participation marks).