Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King

Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King

Introduction:

“Green Grass, Running Water” is a captivating novel written by Thomas King, first published in 1993. Set in the fictional Blackfoot (Siksika) reserve of Blossom, Alberta, the novel weaves together elements of myth, history, and contemporary reality to tell the story of five interconnected characters and their quest for identity, meaning, and belonging. Through a blend of humor, satire, and magical realism, King explores themes of colonization, cultural identity, and the power of storytelling to heal the wounds of the past.

Plot Summary:

The novel follows the lives of five Blackfoot characters—Lionel Red Dog, Latisha Red Dog, Alberta Frank, Eli Stands Alone, and Charlie Looking Bear—as they navigate the complexities of life on the reservation and grapple with questions of identity and heritage. As the novel unfolds, these characters find themselves drawn together by a series of increasingly surreal and interconnected events, including the arrival of mythical figures such as Coyote and the trickster Nanabush.

At the heart of the novel is the characters’ struggle to reconcile the demands of modernity with the traditions and values of their Blackfoot heritage. As they confront issues such as cultural assimilation, racism, and environmental degradation, they must also contend with their own personal demons and the legacies of colonization that continue to shape their lives. Through a series of humorous and thought-provoking encounters, the characters come to realize the importance of embracing their cultural identity and reclaiming their place in the world.

Themes:

  1. Colonization and Its Legacy: “Green Grass, Running Water” explores the enduring impact of colonization on Indigenous communities and the ways in which historical trauma continues to shape contemporary realities. Through the characters’ experiences, King highlights the ongoing struggle to reclaim cultural identity and sovereignty in the face of systemic oppression and cultural erasure.
  2. Cultural Identity and Heritage: Central to the novel is the characters’ quest to rediscover and reclaim their Blackfoot heritage in the face of assimilationist pressures and cultural commodification. Through their interactions with mythical figures and encounters with traditional storytelling, the characters come to understand the importance of preserving and celebrating their cultural identity as a source of strength and resilience.
  3. Humor and Satire: King employs humor and satire as powerful tools for social critique and cultural commentary. Through his irreverent portrayal of stereotypes and his subversion of traditional narrative conventions, King challenges readers to question their assumptions about race, identity, and power, while also inviting them to engage with the novel’s deeper themes and messages.
  4. Storytelling and Mythology: At its core, “Green Grass, Running Water” is a celebration of the power of storytelling and mythology to shape individual and collective identity. Through the characters’ interactions with mythical figures such as Coyote and Nanabush, King explores the ways in which storytelling can be a source of healing, transformation, and empowerment, helping to bridge the gap between past and present and connect individuals to their cultural heritage.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does King use humor and satire to explore themes of colonization, cultural identity, and power in the novel? What effect does this comedic tone have on the reader’s engagement with the novel’s deeper themes and messages?
  2. Discuss the significance of the characters’ interactions with mythical figures such as Coyote and Nanabush. How do these encounters shape the characters’ understanding of themselves and their place in the world?
  3. How does the novel challenge traditional narrative conventions and storytelling techniques? What effect does this unconventional narrative structure have on the reader’s experience of the novel?
  4. “Green Grass, Running Water” is set in the fictional Blackfoot reserve of Blossom, Alberta. How does King’s portrayal of this community challenge stereotypes about Indigenous peoples and their way of life?
  5. What role does environmental degradation and the loss of traditional lands play in the novel? How do these issues intersect with broader themes of colonization, cultural identity, and sovereignty?

“Green Grass, Running Water” is a thought-provoking and engaging novel that blends elements of myth, history, and contemporary reality to explore themes of colonization, cultural identity, and the power of storytelling. Through its colorful cast of characters, irreverent humor, and profound insights into the human condition, Thomas King offers readers a rich and multifaceted portrait of Indigenous life in North America, while also challenging them to confront their own assumptions and prejudices about race, identity, and power. As we follow the characters on their journey of self-discovery and reconciliation, we are reminded of the enduring importance of cultural heritage and the transformative power of storytelling to heal the wounds of the past and shape a more just and inclusive future.