Lesson 3.2 Assignment 3.5
#1 In order to tell us the story of a stereo salesman, Lionel Red Deer (whose past mistakes continue to live on in his present), a high school teacher, Alberta Frank (who wants to have a child free of the hassle of wedlock—or even, apparently, the hassle of heterosex!), and a retired professor, Eli Stands Alone (who wants to stop a dam from flooding his homeland), King must go back to the beginning of creation.
Why do you think this is so?
There is much more going on in this story than Lionel, Alberta, and Eli’s personal challenges. There is the interweaving of several storylines, and they all centre around water. “Where did the water come from?” askes Alberta, Patrolman Delano, Sergean Cereno, and Lionel (King 104). In addition, the last two sentences in the first section are: “In the beginning there was nothing. Just the water” (King 107). The theme of water continues throughout and ends with the dam breaking, and this is the crux of the story. King writes, “beneath the power and the motion [of the dam breaking] there was a more ominous sound of things giving way, of things falling apart” (454). This I believe, is why King goes back to the beginning of creation, because creation cannot occur without water. He wants things, as in the current situation between First Nations and the governments of Canada and the U.S. to be reborn. He wants the current situation to give way to something better. A falling apart of how things have evolved, to make room for an improved, more equitable situation for the original inhabitants of this land. King is deliberately using water to make a point, and I believe he uses it because it is through water that creation is possible. “‘Hmmmm, says Coyote. ‘All this watery imagery must mean something’” (King 391).
The first creation story King tells is of “First Woman” (King 38). It is interesting to note that she ends up on a train with “a bunch of Indians” with “chains on their legs”, and all of them are “going to Florida” (King 105). This ties in directly with Alberta’s story to her students about the army putting 72 Native Americans into chains. They were “put on a train and sent to Florida” where they were “imprisoned at Fort Marion” (King 15). Note, this is a metonymy of the treatment received by the Native Peoples of North America by the European Invaders. In addition, this points to the reason why King intertwines the stories of Lionel, Alberta, and Eli with the beginning of creation. Not only does he wants each of these characters to re-create their own stories, but he also wants to re-create the story of how the Native Peoples of North American have been, and continue to be, treated.
The title of the book by Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water, alludes to both water, and the treatment of the Native Peoples. “As long as the grass is green and the water’s run” (King 234) is a direct quote from “Article 5 of the Treaty with the Comanches and Other Tribes and Bands, 12 August 1861” (Bernholz). The title ties into not only water, but also the treatment of Native Peoples. This dual message within the water theme can be found in the three cars that get carried away by water and eventually float out over the edge of the dam. “The Pinto is the first of a series of jokes about the disappearing cars that go over the dam. The three ships of Columbus on the voyage sponsored by Isabella of Spain were the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.” (Flick 146). The three ships of Columbus, that crossed the water, started the European colonization of North America. Throughout the book, these three cars are carried away by water. However, this water theme also includes purification, and points to correcting the wrongs that were done to Native Peoples. This can be found when Robinson Crusoe says: “‘The last time you fooled around like this,’” said Robinson Crusoe, ‘the world got very wet.’ ‘And we had to start all over again’” (King 456). This is a reference to the great flood, and “[a] flood myth or deluge myth is a symbolic narrative in which a great flood is sent by a deity, or deities, to destroy civilization in an act of divine retribution. Parallels are often drawn between the flood waters of these myths and the primeval waters found in certain creation myths, as the flood waters are described as a measure for the cleansing of humanity, in preparation for rebirth” (Flood). Note, this is a reference to cleansing humanity, and of making wrongs right again. It is important to consider that the idea of the great flood “is a theme widespread among many cultures” (Flood). Click here for full details about the full extent of this myth (Flood).
I believe that King goes back to the beginning of creation as a statement that the current situation needs to be reborn. Although each of these characters are running from their past, each take steps to create a new future, and in this way their actions reflect the need for rebirth.
Bernholz, Charles D., et al. “As long as grass shall grow and water run: The treaties formed by the Confederate States of America and the tribes in Indian Territory, 1861.” Treaties Portal. n.d. Web. 18 July 2016.
Flick Jane. “Reading Notes for Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water.” Canadian Literature 161/162 (1999). Web. 18 July 2016.
“Flood Stories.” Crystal Links. CrystalLinks.com. n.d. Web. 18 July 2016.
King, Thomas. Green Grass, Running Water. New York: Bantam Books, 1994. Print
Ocean Wave, Tsunami.” n.d. Digital Image. Mota. Web 18 July 2016.