What does water represent in Thomas King's Green Grass, Running Water?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Green Grass, Running Water, author Thomas King portrays Native Americans as struggling to balance their Native American traditions with the Western modern world in order to show just how much Western society has violated Native American land and culture. One way in which he portrays the struggle to balance Native American heritage with the modern world is by intertwining his story with various creation stories; each character tells a different creation story. A second way in which he helps portray this struggle of balance is through his recurring motif of water. Water is definitely used to represent many different things throughout the book.

One thing water represents is creation, and creation is used to link the Native American characters to their heritage. The author's point is to assert that Native Americans are just as much a part of creation as the white Anglo-Saxon, and did not deserve the ostracism and destruction the white colonialists had a tendency to dole out to the Native Americans. King clearly uses water to represent creation when he begins each creation story with the word water: "In the beginning, there was nothing. Just the water." Plus, since it is the Native American characters who relate the creation stories, we see that the author is using water and the creation stories to link Native Americans to creation, establishing them as a part of creation.

reidalot eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Water is a very powerful force in Green Grass, Running Water just as the title suggests in reference to the agreement the Canadian government made with the Native Americans. That is, the indigenous peoples could keep their land as long as the grass was green and the water still ran. Water holds the power of life as well as political power in reference to the treaties between the Native Americans and the government.

In this work, water holds a supernatural power. Water is always moving, not linear. Instead, water is cyclical and must run free, free of dams and other man made restraints. Water is personified (given human characteristics) as it relates to the need for its freedom. It is towards the end of the story, that the obstructed water is set free. When this occurs, balance is restored to the natural world. Water represents balance in the natural world and is a necessary element that links the Native Americans' physical and spiritual world.