Green Grass, Running Water Critical Overview - Essay

Thomas King

Critical Overview

Narrative structure has been one of the most important points of discussion in analyzing Green Grass, Running Water. Certainly, its attempt to replicate the oral tradition of many Native American cultures in written form is significant. Equally important is King’s continual questioning of White narratives, particularly in terms of the representation of Native Americans in White media. Some critics have noted the tricky balancing act King has attempted with the novel. Part of what makes Green Grass, Running Water unique is the way it melds references from literature, history, Native American traditions, and popular culture. In doing so, King has either made assumptions about his audience, or willfully neglected segments of it. Rather than educating readers on these references, King assumes they will understand them. The question this approach raises is whether or not the book is elitist. Are Native American audiences more likely to get the cultural references such as the Coyote character? Conversely, are White audiences more liable to recognize figures from their own literary and cultural background? Education plays an important role in the plot of Green Grass, Running Water, and one of the implicit points made is that the ghettoization of Native populations has made higher levels of education more challenging to pursue. If King is arguing that a group of people is being kept down through lack of education and economic opportunities, then why write a novel that requires a certain level of education to decipher its full meaning?

One response to such criticism is that King is not making any assumptions about his audience. By creating a cultural mosaic, he is allowing for a multiplicity of interpretations. He is also acknowledging the possibility of White audiences familiar with Native American culture and Native American audiences familiar with British and American literature. Furthermore, the Narrator of Green Grass,...

(The entire section is 615 words.)