Write a blog that hyper-links your research on the characters in GGRW according to your selected section of the book. Be sure to make use of Jane Flick’s GGRW reading notes on your reading list.
The density of literary and historical references within King’s Green Grass Running Water is remarkable. It is this density that makes an assignment like this so interesting, and also so vital for our ability to actually understand what King is trying to achieve. But unfortunately, this density meant that by the time I had finished analyzing five pages my blog post was already reaching its limit! Consequently, this blog will only cover pages 155-159 in the class edition of Green Grass Running Water, but I think there is still plenty here for a 2500 word essay, let alone a 600 word blog.
This section contains two parts, the first being the period in which the Canadian tourists – Polly, Sue, Archie, and John – visit the Dead Dog Café. As Jane Flick notes, these names are fairly undisguised references to the famous Canadian writers Pauline Johnson, Susanna Moodie, Archibald Belaney (although in my first read-through I had thought this might be a reference to Archibald Lampman), and John Richardson (Flick 154-155).
In the second part of this section, Latisha and George fight about the differences between Americans and Canadians, an argument which introduces tension into the whole section, including the tourists’ visit to the Café. At first I struggled to understand how the two parts of this section related to each other, but eventually I realized that although this tension is primarily between Canadians (Latisha) and Americans (George), there is also a subtler tension over the question of what it means to be Canadian as opposed to European. Ultimately then, both parts of this section (and arguably large swaths of the book) are about identity. King makes the reader ask what does it mean to be ‘Indian’? What does it mean to be Canadian?
“Americans are adventurous” George declared. “Canadians are conservative. Look at western expansion and the frontier experience. Lewis and Clark were Americans”
What about Samuel de Champlain and Jacques Cartier? Latisha had asked.
“Europeans.” George laughed, and then he gave her a hug. “Don’t take it personally, Country.”
King uses the four Canadian authors as the characters for his tourists because they all struggled with these questions of identity in one way or another. In their arguments, George and Latisha mention a multitude of historical figures, but since many of these references are self explanatory (and in my view serve primarily to set the mood for the Canadian tourists) I will focus this post on Kings use of Polly, Sue, Archie, and John.
As King writes that “Polly here is part Indian” (King 158), so too was Pauline Johnson of mixed heritage, born to a Mohawk father and English mother. Her mixed heritage appears to have lead to a somewhat uncertain identity, with Johnson also going by her Mohawk name, Tekahionwake. This tension can also be seen in Johnson’s performances, where she would often begin wearing traditional Indigenous Dress and then changing into Victorian clothing (An example of one of Johnson’s costumes is on display at the Vancouver Museum).
The character of Sue is also easily recognized as Susanna Moodie, who we’ve already discussed in this course. When she appears in the Dead Dog Café, Sue herself brings up the idea of Identity: “with the exception of Archie,” said Sue, “we’re all Canadians… Archie is from England, but he’s been here for so long, he thinks he’s Canadian, too” (King 158). This is ironic because Susanna Moodie herself only moved to Canada from England after her marriage. In this way King shows us how fluid and complex the definition of ‘Canadian’ can be, and especially the hypocrisy in seeing more recent immigrants as ‘less Canadian’.
Archie Belaney, the third of the four Canadian tourists, was famous for his convoluted identity. Born in England as Archibald Stansfeld Belaney, he later took on the name of Grey Owl, and claimed to be of mixed Scottish-Apache heritage, hence Sue’s comment “he thinks he’s Canadian, too” (King 158). Like Johnson, Belaney often wore traditional Indigenous dress on his speaking tours.
The fourth and final tourist was John Richardson, who, while he didn’t necessarily struggle with identity issues himself, wrote the novel Wacousta, who’s antagonist is an Englishman who becomes a ‘savage’ in an attempt to get revenge. Identity, and what it means to be Canadian, English, and Indigenous are central themes of this lengthy but fascinating novel.
I’m sure I’ve missed many of King’s references to other characters or other aspects of these characters’ pasts, so I look forward to reading what other people found!
Flick, Jane. “Reading Notes for Thomas King’s Green Grass Running Water.” Canadian Literature 140-172. (1999). Web. 26 July 2016.
King, Thomas. Green Grass Running Water. Toronto: Harper Collins, 1993. Print.
Onyanga-Omara, Jane. “Grey Owl: Canada’s Great Conservationist and Imposter.” BBC News. BBC, 19 Sept. 2013. Web. 26 July 2016.
“Pauline Johnson.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2016.
“Pauline Johnson’s Performance Costume.” Museum of Vancouver. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2016.
Sinha, Maire. “Canadian Identity, 2013.” Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. N.p., 2013. Web. 26 July 2016.
“Wacousta; Or, The Prophecy: A Tale of the Canadas.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 July 2016.