Green Grass, Running Water Additional Characters

Thomas King


Alberta Frank is unique among the Native American characters in that her identity issues have less to do with her cultural heritage and more to do with her sex. Alberta seems to be well in touch with her Native American roots; when we first meet her, we learn that she teaches Native American studies. She is utterly free of the emotional hang-ups about her culture that plague Eli, Lionel and Charlie. Instead, Alberta must contend with issues surrounding her womanhood. At the beginning of the novel, Alberta has created a seemingly perfect life for herself. She has a solid career and is dating not one but two men: slacker Lionel and his flashier cousin, Charlie. As King develops the character, however, she reveals herself to be fundamentally dissatisfied. Her students are apathetic to what she teaches and both of the men want more of a relationship than she is willing to give. As her biological clock drives her to pursue maternity, she must decide which path to motherhood she must take. Wanting a child forces her to recognize the distance she has created between herself and Charlie and Lionel. When it becomes apparent to her that she is pregnant, she has an emotional breakthrough and reaches out to several women in her life for advice and support. Alberta faces a quandary similar to many women in the late twentieth century: whether or not she can have it all.

Lionel is a character living in a permanent state of arrested development. Early in the novel, he recalls several bad decisions that he made that forever changed his life. Perhaps the most significant of these bad decisions is Lionel’s accidental involvement with a radical Native American movement in Colorado that leads to his arrest. As depicted by King, Lionel is a man who lets life happen to him and his aimlessness is catching up with him. On the verge of turning forty, Lionel recognizes that his life is in a rut, but seems unclear about the best course of action to change it. As a young man, Lionel dreamed of going to a university but got sidetracked into a dead-end job working at Bill Bursum’s electronics store. Lionel’s yearly vow to himself that he would apply for school the next year suggests an unending pattern of inaction. Lionel’s journey is about growing up and becoming a man. What he realizes, however, is that he cannot become someone else, and his dreams of a university education are largely rooted in comparing himself to Charlie. Aunt Norma and Uncle Eli help him understand that he can build a good life for himself in Blossom. When the four Native American elders give him the jacket, he sees himself differently. He is able to stand up for his sister and, more importantly, for himself.

Charlie Looking Bear acts as a foil to his cousin, Lionel. King emphasizes this comparison by placing them in a romantic triangle with Alberta. Alberta is torn between these two men because they have different strengths and faults. Charlie is a highly successful lawyer who is far more educated than his...

(The entire section is 1218 words.)