Hyperlinking Green Grass Running Water by Thomas King
For this assignment I chose to focus on a few groups of consecutive pages that relate to the telling of the creation story that includes First Woman. I chose these pages because when I first read them, I felt as though there was a lot I was missing out on, but pushed ahead in order to finish the required reading. I was also particularly drawn to these passages because of previous academic work I’ve done on Paradise Lost by John Milton. Up until now, the only garden of Eden I was familiar with was Milton’s, and I found King’s very compelling. For this assignment I will focus on pages 38, 39, 40 and 41, as well as 68, 69, 70, 71 and 72.
Coyote and GOD (dog backwards)
In the beginning, there is Coyote and water. Coyote is a tremendously powerful and popular figure in Native North American mythology (Flick). What makes Coyote so special, is that though he is intelligent and powerful, like modern Christians imagine God, Coyote also has flaws. Coyote’s down-to-earthiness (ie – offering to apologize (King 38), exhibiting a selfish interest in other coyotes (38), lying about eating food in the garden (69) ) is approachable. The way in which he listens to and engages with the “I says” storyteller, makes him a perfect audience for the orality of King’s tale. Also, Coyote’s presence in the creation story as both “Old Coyote” (39) and as the listener, serves as a force in the resistance of colonial representations. Unlike the GOD character, who continually tries to control and dictate the story so that it matches the Christian myth of creation (despite its similarities to other creation stories), Coyote’s presence surreptitiously affects the audience on the level of perception and challenges us to consider alternate realities. This challenging reflects a central aspect of the oral tradition – when a story is being told, new information is added, perceptions change, the story changes and the audience moves on.Some argue that this fluidity makes the oral tradition biased and subjective, and therefore flawed. Adversely, GOD is not accepting of the changes Coyote and First Woman bring to his mythology. The literary tradition of the Christian myth cannot account or adjust for new information or perceptions. Enlightenment thinking deems that because of this, the literary tradition is rational and objective, and therefore superior. This is reflected through the GOD character’s fragile superiority complex, when he claims ownership of the garden and bosses First Woman and Ahdamn around (41). This strikes at the heart of the difference between cultural motivations for sharing stories. Coyote’s oral stories seek to teach, heal and entertain. GOD’s story only wants to inform. I found it interesting that when Coyote is speaking, his speech is flanked by quotation marks, while GOD’s are not. Perhaps this is another allusion to the oral versus literary tradition.
First Woman and GOD
These characters really helped me to understand the oppositions King is playing with in this novel. First Woman is the poster child for opposition. In this myth,instead of bring created from a rib, she helps to create the entire world as we know it with the help of the sky and water animals. Much like Coyote, First Woman is a character whose story resists not only the colonial influence on oral history and Indigenous culture, but on the nature of power. GOD who cries out “What happened to my void?” (38 – emphasis mine) and stomps around making sure everyone knows he is angry (69). According to the article hyperlinked above, the GOD character tries to gain power with coercion. (Sound familiar?) First Woman is collaborative and maintains referent power, the most valuable, because of her positive attitude (endless optomism about adventures (72), confidence in leading others (straighten up, mind your relations – 39), ability to make friends and share with allies (40), and ability to think on her feet and adapt to new situations (71).
Looking at the origins of power for First Woman and GOD (who came from Coyote’s dream) brought up all sorts of connections I was able to make – the idea of divine right and even the, somehow legally binding notion that Canada was empty when the Europeans “found it”. It makes me wonder – if you need to justify your power so frequently, are you ever really all that powerful?
I enjoyed looking closely at the connections I was able to make in these passages. I found so many oppositions, as well as instances and examples of concepts we’ve already studied in this course. I kept fretting over whether I had found the right connections or allusions, until I realized that King is intending for me to be the audience who actively contributes to my own understanding of the story, and I did just that 🙂
Flick, Jane. “Reading Notes for Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water.” Canadian Literature 161/162 (1999). Web. 28 July 2016.
King, Thomas. Green Grass Running Water. Toronto: Harper Collins, 1993. Print.