Several settings play an important role in Green Grass, Running Water. One of the most important is the log cabin that belonged to Eli’s mother. Eli has lived away from his homeland for much of his life, so his return to the house in which he was born is significant. In the larger thematic scheme of King’s novel, it represents a return to his own culture—one that he denied and avoided for most of his adult life. The log cabin also has a larger symbolic significance in reinforcing the central struggle of the novel: the conflict between dominant White modern culture against traditional Native American beliefs and practices. In many ways, the encroachment of the dam project on Eli’s land is representative of the long history of encroachment that Native Americans have endured at the hands of whites. Most importantly, Norma convinces Lionel to help her rebuild the cabin after its destruction by the dam break. The cabin symbolizes the resilience of the Blackfoot culture in the face of adversity.

The dam also serves as an important place in Green Grass, Running Water. King foreshadows the eventual destruction of the dam at several points, revealing the leaks and other construction problems. The dam also fits into the polarity of White and Native American cultures represented in the novel. Throughout the book, White culture is synonymous with modernity while Native American culture is equated with tradition. On a deeper level, White Culture is tied to technology and construction while Native American Culture is linked to nature. As a result, the dam is the ultimate point of conflict: a man-made structure holding back a force of nature. King makes it clear early in the story which force will win, but he does so by linking the natural and the man-made to a third force: the supernatural. The mysterious appearance of the three “stolen” cars in the river (and their not-so-subtle comparison to the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria) represent the importance of higher powers. Until this point, the natural and the man-made have been at an impasse (a standoff further exemplified by the relationship between Eli and Sifton). It takes the intervention of the supernatural to create change; when the three cars are...

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Green Grass, Running Water Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Berner, Robert L. “World Literature in Review: Native American.” World Literature Today 67 (Autumn, 1993): 869. A short but interesting analysis of the satiric and mythic complexities of Green Grass, Running Water. Affirms the novel as “a permanent addition to the corpus of American Indian literature which will serve as a benchmark in the history of that subject.”

Blair, Elizabeth. “Setting the Story Straight.” World and I 8 (June, 1993): 284-295. Blair offers a brief comparison of King’s Medicine River and Green Grass, Running Water. She presents an intriguing analysis of various components of the narrative, including the historical, mythic, and religious elements.

Eder, Richard. “Indian Spirits at Large in the World Today.” Newsday (March 25, 1993): 66. Eder gives a brief overview of the plot of Green Grass, Running Water and highlights important events. His analysis of the mythic aspects of the story is helpful but not comprehensive.

Low, Denise. Review of Green Grass, Running Water, by Thomas King. American Indian Quarterly 18 (Winter, 1994): 104-106. Low discusses the four characters who launch the “cosmic farce” characterizing the story line of Green Grass, Running Water. She concludes that although King’s humor can be gently scathing concerning the relationship between Native Americans and Europeans, its ultimate message is hopeful.

McManus, James. “Has Red Dog Gone White?” The New York Times Book Review 98 (July 25, 1993): 21. McManus comments on King’s control of the diverse stories developed in Green Grass, Running Water. He calls the book “ambitious and funny” but criticizes King for spending too much time developing some of the book’s less interesting characters.

Turbide, Diane. “A Literary Trickster: Thomas King Conjures Up Comic Worlds.” Maclean’s 106 (May 3, 1993): 43-44. Turbide explores the trickster aspect of the novel, focusing on the cultural and religious conflicts between American Indian and Christian viewpoints.