Introduction

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 304

Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King is a lyrical exploration of the lives of a group of characters living in the small Canadian town of Blossom. Written in 1993, the novel is notable for its portrayal of Native Americans struggling with their identities in the twentieth century. What makes King’s novel unique is the way its structure mirrors its content; all of the Native American characters are grappling with the balance of tradition and modernity. King echoes this conflict structurally by employing an alternating narrative. The framework of the novel is provided by an unseen narrator who interacts with the trickster god, Coyote. These interchanges are based on the recollections of four elderly Native Americans of mythical origins and indeterminate sex.

Interspersed with these mystical segments are the stories of the Native American characters in contemporary Canada. The stories progress in a linear fashion using a much more realistic style. King’s achievement is significant in several ways. First, the mystical statements are a written representation of the oral traditions so important to Native American culture and its perpetuation. Secondly, they establish a stylistic difference from the realistic segments that bear more similarity to traditional White literature. As the story begins to climax, the mythical elements and the realistic elements overlap, and King mirrors that blending in his writing style.

King's stylistic and structural achievements meld with the sociological aims of King’s story in a way that suggests a blurring of the lines between form and content. While the novel contains more than a few indictments of White culture, the novel’s structure makes it clear that the novel is pro-Native American rather than anti-White. By the novel’s end, several of the main characters have found a path in their lives that will allow them to embrace both tradition and modernity.

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Extended Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1547

Green Grass, Running Water begins with an unnamed narrator telling the story of the trickster god, Coyote, who is fast asleep. As he sleeps, one of his dreams gets away from him and becomes God. They observe that there is water everywhere. As Part One of the novel begins, the pattern of the novel is established: each section is narrated by one of the four Native American elders (Part One by The Lone Ranger, Part Two by Ishmael, Part Three by Robinson Crusoe, and Part Four by Hawkeye.) In each part, stories of the present-day characters alternate with conversations among the four elders as well as each elder’s origin story. Each elder’s origin story begins with them as a female character: First Woman, Changing Woman, Thought Woman and Old Woman, respectively. Eventually, they encounter figures from the Bible (Adam and Eve, Noah, Mary and Gabriel, and Jesus) and ultimately the story of their namesake. The other chapters are each told from a different character’s point of view. Each of these chapters is told in an alternating structure, telling part of that character’s story in the present day and part of their past.

Part One introduces all of the main characters and establishes the central conflicts of the novel. Lionel, on a long drive home with his judgmental aunt, Norma, recalls some of his past mistakes. While filling in for a friend at a conference in Colorado, Lionel accidentally gets swept up in a radical protest. When the police arrive, Lionel is arrested despite his innocence and serves jail time. Lionel also dreams of one day finishing college, which his Aunt says means he wants to be white (a fault she also ascribes to her brother and Lionel’s uncle, Eli). Norma sees for old Native American men by the side of the road and tells...

(The entire section contains 1851 words.)

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