In Green Grass, Running Water, the stories of Lionel and Alberta are primarily told by a third-person narrator rather than the characters themselves. This narrator changes perspectives in different chapters and often provides insights into these two characters’ thoughts. In addition, dialogue provides each characters’ thoughts in their conversations with others. Both Lionel and Alberta have faced a series of challenges, but of very different kinds. Ultimately, their differences bring them together, after it seems that Alberta might have stayed with a man more similar to her.
Lionel’s life plans were derailed through his entry into Indigenous activism, which was apparently unintentional. The narrator indicates that Lionel sometimes dwells on what he considers “mistakes” (p. 30). Being arrested at a demonstration and having a criminal record have affected his self-esteem and his employment opportunities. Discouragement and procrastination combine to keep him from applying to school.
His resolve seems to solidify as the novel progresses. Rather than discuss these issues with Alberta, he usually converses with the four Indians. As the novel concludes, Lionel seems to have turned a corner, and his intention has apparently firmed up. He seems committed both to work on the cabin and staying with Alberta.
Alberta had overcome a childhood with an alcoholic father and was initially confident that she had made the right choice in marrying Bob. However, her intelligence and ambition to be a professor did not come easily, as her husband did not support her choice, and ultimately, they divorced. Her most personal struggle was her unsuccessful effort to get artificial insemination (p. 171). As she continues to struggle over whether to commit to one man, she thinks about helping Lionel organize his life. Later, she shares her symptoms with Latisha and tries to come to terms with having gotten pregnant.