How does King show the contrast between Western and First Nations traditions of storytelling methods in Green Grass, Running Water?

Thomas King shows the contrast between Western and First Nations storytelling methods by combining Western written or literary traditions with oral traditions of Indigenous storytelling.

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The contrast between Western and First Nations storytelling methods is one of the most important and most recognizable features of Thomas King's novel Green Grass, Running Water. In fact, the differences or the cultural differences between Western and Native American culture is one of the main themes of the novel, as King's intention was to point out Western ignorance, misunderstanding, disregard and distortion of Indigenous traditions, beliefs, and values, especially in literature and film.

Interestingly enough, King showcases this contrast by merging the two different techniques of storytelling and incorporating oral storytelling methods and traditions into the text, thus giving the readers a unique opportunity to listen to the story and participate in it. In other words, the passive readers transform into a live audience. For example, in the following passage, the narrator directly addresses the audience:

"Okay," says Coyote. "Tell me a story."

"Okay," I says. "You remember Old Woman? You remember that big hole and Young Man Walking On Water? You remember any of this at all?"

"Sure," says Coyote. "I remember all of it."

"I wasn't talking to you." I says.

"Who else is here?" says Coyote.

King hints that the narrator is also talking to the readers as well, as if they are there to listen to the story.

For the most part, King showcases this synthesis of oral and literary traditions and methods of storytelling in the conversations with Coyote; he helps the readers understand the context of the story by blurring the line between reality and magical realism, which connects the narrator with the readers or the listeners.

This is actually the main reason why Coyote never tells, but only listens to the story along with the audience as well, because he too needs to establish a connection to the narrator to better understand the main message of the story. If Coyote and the readers suddenly become narrators as well, then we'll all be continuing the Western tendency to ignore and misinterpret Indigenous traditions, as our narration would be presumptive and unreliable at best and offensive at worst.

"Okay," said the Lone Ranger. "Whose turn is it now?"

"Well, who went last?" said Ishmael.
'You did."

"Then it's Robinson Crusoe's turn."

"What about me?" says Coyote. "I'd like a turn."

"That doesn't sound like a good idea," said Hawkeye.

As the above passage indicates, a story told orally can be altered—the plot and the context can be modified and its contents can and most likely will change, as the story is told from different narrators, passed down from generation to generation. A story that is written however, will remain the same; no matter how much time passes, the written word remains unchanged and unchangeable. Connecting oral with written storytelling showcases how the two contrast, but also complement each other. In this context, King suggests that neither method of storytelling, be it written (Western) or oral (Indigenous), should dominate the other:

"Well", I says, "Old Woman falls into the water. So she is in that water. So she looks around and she sees—"

“I know, I know," says Coyote. "She sees a golden calf!"

"Wrong again," I says.

"A pillar of salt!" says Coyote.

"Nope," I says to Coyote.

"A burning bush!" says Coyote.

"Where do you get these things?" I says.

"I read a book" says Coyote.

"Forget the book," I says. "We've got a story to tell. And here’s how it goes."

Aside from humoring bits of the Bible with the purpose of accentuating the oral storytelling of Indigenous spiritualism, King encourages the readers to "forget the book" and to simply enjoy the story. It's noteworthy to mention that by "forgetting the book," King doesn't prompt the readers to disregard the Christian beliefs and values, but rather to accept both religion and spirituality as some of the possible theories or "truths" for the creation of the universe. Most importantly however, he points out that "there are no truths … Only stories." The universe tells us stories, and all we need to do to understand it is to listen.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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