Monthly Archives: July 2016

Lesson 3:3; Assignment 3:7 – Appropriated names and warbling ’30s movie stars

For the assignment this week I picked pages 130-143. During these pages the primary focus is on Latisha, as she deals with four American tourists named Jeannette, Nelson, Rosemarie, and Bruce. The section also dips into the past, explaining how Latisha met her husband, George Morningstar, and ends with a quick meeting between Eli Stands Alone and Sifton, the dam planner.

To begin elucidating the references King (probably) made in the writing of these scenes, I will start with George Morningstar.

In the appendix of Green Grass, Running Water Jane Flick links George Morningstar with General Custer, a Civil War general (20). Now, I am unfamiliar with General Custer, but the name sounds familiar — like Uncle Sam, or Captain America. In GGRW George is described as having “soft light brown hair that just touched his shoulders” (132); pictures of General Custer corroborate King’s description, as does Custer’s youth, seeming uselessness, and yet all-over charisma. Consider this description from

“But Custer had greater ambitions than being a grammar school teacher and soon set his sights on the military academy at West Point. While he lacked the qualifications that many of the other candidates had, his confidence eventually won over a local congressman, and with his recommendation, in 1857 Custer was enrolled at the school” (n.p).

And compare it to Latisha reminiscence of her first few months with George:

“At the end of the day, he [George] was still there, watching, listening, looking for all the world like the most intelligent man in the universe… ” (132).

Yet General Custer was not a spectacular general, and though he himself escaped many scrapes, his men “suffer[ed] disproportionately high casualties during the [Civil] war” (, n.p.). Compare this again to Latisha, who realized early in her marriage to George that he “wondered so much about the world was because he didn’t have a clue about life” (132, 134).

General Custer was eventually killed, along with 210 of his men, at the Battle of Little Bighorn, due much in part to Custer’s inability to await orders.

Jane Flick connects the diner goers (Jeannette, Nelson, Bruce, and Rosemarie) to “figures [who] have been active in the stereotyping of Canadian Indians and Canadian life in the North or West” (25). Flick links Jeannette and Nelson, in particular, to actors “Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy [who] starred in Rose Marie (1936), a Hollywood musical romance about life in Canada’s north” (25). At one point in the diner scene Rosemarie tells Latisha that she was once an opera singer, and Nelson sings “When I’m calling you, oo-oo-oo, oo-oo-oo!” (133). Flick notes that this song appears in Rose Marie as the “Indian Love Call” (26). Of course, because the internet is fantastic, I found the song on YouTube, and place it hear for your viewing (listening?) pleasure (the video patches together all instances of the song in the movie):

Nelson (the diner-goer) says quite mournfully that his childhood dog was named Tecumseh (bear in mind that he’s eating at the Dead Dog Café, where Latisha insists straight-faced that the meat they serve is dog) (132). Nelson says that his dog was named about Tecumseh the Indian chief, and Flick notes that there was a “Shawnee Chief… noted for his courage and sagacity” (26) named Tecumseh. But when I was on researching General Custer, a prompter at the bottom showed me General William Tecumseh Sherman.

General Sherman was the hard-hitter in the American Civil War — his army’s battles against the Confederate south were known as “Sherman’s March, in which he and his troops laid waste to the South” (, n.p.). On the site the editors speculate that Sherman’s middle name came from his father, who “admired the Shawnee chief” (n.p.) Flick mentioned.

There is perhaps a correlation here between naming a man who “believ[ed] the Native Americans were an impediment to progress… [and] ordered total destruction of the warring tribes” (, n.p.) after a famous Native American chief, and naming a dog after a famous Native American chief. Both usages of the name disparage the original person — Sherman by his actions, the dog by way of insult. King may be hinting at the appropriation of names, used to shock or to portray oneself as exotic. In GGRW, Charlie’s Dad Portland makes a mockery of this process by taking a more “Indian” name for his stage name, despite being Native American and already having, not only an “Indian” name, but a name of his own

“After the fourth year of playing minor roles, C.B. Cologne, a red-headed Italian who played some of the Indian leads… told Portland he should think about changing his name to something more dramatic. Portland and Lillian sat around one night with C.B. and his wife, Isabella, and drank wine and tried to think of the most absurd name they could imagine. ‘Iron Eyes Screeching Eagle'” (151).

This taking of names also links to General Custer, who was given the name “Son of the Morning Star… by the Arikaras in Dakota territory” and who liked to be known as such (Flick, 20). King could be alluding to the practice of taking only what one liked from the Native American way of life, and discarding or obliterating the rest — names, ways of dress (Custer was famous for wearing a fringed leather jacket (Flick, 39)), the stereotypes that go over so well in films, particularly Westerns, were all adopted by the European settlers (and continue to be so — headdresses at Coachella, anyone?). But anything that didn’t fit in — polytheistic myths, language, cultural ceremonies, land usage — was cast aside.

Finally, the conversation between Sifton and Eli Stands Alone. Flick notes that the dam project in Quebec to which Sifton alludes as his lost career opportunity is a stand-in for the “James Bay project, the monumental hydroelectric-power development on the east coast of James Bay… it was contested by the Cree, who had not been consulted… The Cree settled for $225 m. and retained hunting and fishing rights” (26). I found an article online detailing the process of creating the James Bay dam (a dam included in the wider Great Whale development), and the evidence given in court by Alan Penn about the social and cultural effect of the dam foreshadows what King no doubt is hinting would happen to Blossom, Alberta, if Eli Stands Alone moved aside:

“The distribution of hunting territories, an essential cultural feature of Cree society, has been challenged by the 11,000 square kms of flooding, and by the emerging network of roads….  La Grande river, especially above the first rapids, is heavily contaminated [with mercury]… Many families…decide simply to avoid fish altogether. This is particularly obvious in the case of women of child-bearing age. This group is generally only exposed to very low levels of methyl mercury. But this is because women have stopped eating fish. Given what we know about the role of fish in nutrition during pregnancy in the north, we must wonder what the larger public health implications of these dietary shifts really are” (Grand Council of the Crees, n.p.).

Which brings me to Eli, and Sifton. Eli, Flick notes, is most likely based on “Elijah Harper… [who] voted against a debate that did not allow full consultation with the First Nations” (24). The correlation between Eli and Elijah Harper could be that they stood completely alone in the face of opposition — Eli, against the dam, and Elijah Harper, as the only person to vote no in the “Meech Lake Constitutional Accord in 1990” (Flick, 24).

Sifton Flick connects to a Sir Clifford Sifton, an “[a]ggressive promoter of settlement in the West… and a champion of the settlers who displaced the Native population” (Flick, 24). In the article about the James Bay Project Alan Penn noted that to create the dam “required the relocation of one of the largest subsistence-oriented native communities in northern Canada” (Grand Council of the Crees, n.p.). Sifton, as the head developer of the dam in Blossom, represents large corporations which require the relocation of Native settlements for their projects to commence, as well as the late 19th century British man who forced Native Americans out of their lands to make way for Western settlement.

I am sure there are many more references, but I will gratefully bow out now.

Works Cited Editors. “George Custer Biography.” The Website, A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. Accessed July 27, 2016.

— Picture of George Custer.

— “William Tecumseh Sherman.” Web. Accessed July 27, 2016.

MacGregor, Roy. “The feather, Elijah Harper, and Meech Lake.” Aboriginal Multi-Media Society 8.8 (1990): 7. N.P. Web. Accessed July 27, 2016.

“Social Impact on the Crees of James Bay Project.” The Grand Council of the Crees. N.D. Web. Accessed July 27, 2016.

“Indian Love Call.” Uploaded by Mac&EddyMagic, February 8, 2010. YouTube. July 27, 2016.

Lesson 3:2; Assignment 3:5; Question #1

  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?

It wasn’t until I read this question and tried to puzzle out exactly what Professor Paterson was getting at that I saw the connection between King’s fixation on the beginnings of creation and the stories of Lionel, Alberta, and Eli. I’m not sure why I didn’t see it before — but their stories meld Christian myth and Native American myth perfectly.

The fact that King’s four parts of the book start and are interwoven with four different variations of a Native American creation story, stories in which traditional Native American figures meet Biblical, fictional, or historical Christian/European figures, is a sign that one of King’s aims for the novel might have been to show that Christian and Native American myths can co-exist. Why not expand that concept further, by including two of the most important Christian myths into contemporary times, but enacted by Native Americans and their deities/spirits?

I’ll start with the easy one. Eli Stands Alone literally stands alone in the face of a massive dam project which, if successful, would submerge his family home and the surrounding land in water, probably forever. In this we can see the allegory of Native Americans being overrun, or submerged, by European immigrants. We can see contemporary issues where Native American tribal lands and treaties are overlooked in the place of progress (or golf courses), with Eli representing Native Americans as a whole and the dam project Canada’s predominantly white governmental and commercial authorities.

But, and this is what clicked when I read the question, we can also see the story of Noah and the Flood. Symbolism is huge in King’s novel — can’t see the forest for the trees, in some cases. I think the fact “[i]t was a little over a month before the waters went down” (King, 420), and that the four Indians’ efforts to “fix the world” (King, 123) calls for a flood makes the Biblical references hardly coincidental. King isn’t coy about the allusion either — after the dam’s flood, the four Indians turn to Coyote and remind him of how “[t]he last time [he] fooled around… the world got very wet” (King, 416), implying that Noah’s flood was actually the work of Coyote, not God.

Or, as King tries to show us by mixing and matching Christian and Native American myth, by Coyote and God. King uses the same technique in the story of Alberta.

When I first read this question, I got the impression that Dr. Paterson was meaning that Alberta was a lesbian (“or even, apparently, the hassle of heterosex!”) But when coupled with the Biblical connotations of Eli’s story, Alberta became to me another Virgin Mary — or, rather, a woman experiencing immaculate conception. The novel does not clearly state who the father is, and Alberta herself is adamant that she cannot be pregnant. But why make Alberta pregnant? Why follow or shadow the myth of Jesus Christ’s conception? Well, Coyote again seems to play a part in that story as well — “‘But I was helpful, too,’ says Coyote. ‘That woman who wanted a baby'” (King, 416). And again the old Indians say “You remember the last time you did that?” (ibid), implying that Coyote was responsible for Jesus’ conception.

Lionel, however, doesn’t exactly fit the bill. I’m not overly familiar with Biblical stories (except for the big ones), so perhaps there is a Gospel of Bob or Parable of a Fig that matches Lionel’s story of regret and redemption. But in Lionel I see something else, something far less concrete and recognizable — a feeling versus a story or an event. Lionel represents, to me, the true Christian path, or what Christianity claims to offer its followers — a chance at salvation. Lionel has made mistakes in the past (and though the mistake were in fact made by his colonial government, I want to look at his life in point form), he has lost his way, he has lost his belief (in whatever that may be) — and yet he finds a way to redeem himself, to get out of his “funk,” to become a good man. Colonialism aside, Sun Dance aside, Lionel stands as homo humanius, the formula all men (and women) should follow to find peace.

My read of Lionel is backed up by his strangely non-committal presence in the novel. The only true choice Lionel makes is to get his life together — at all other times he speaks without being heard, listens without hearing what people say, and accepts events (and jackets) without question. He lacks agency, and motive, as yet is arguably the main character in the novel. The Four Indians leave Florida to save Lionel, a thought just as ridiculous as thinking that God will go out of His way to watch over you, or your loved ones.

The fact that King recreated Biblical stories of the flood and immaculate conception, as well as the Christian message, in the lives of Native Americans is perhaps a suggestion that we aren’t so different after all. Or maybe that we are different, but not incompatible. There is room enough in the world for both narratives, Christian and Native American. (Any Hamilton fans out there will appreciate how hard it is for me NOT to include a link to The World Was Wide Enough. Carry on.)

This diffusion of myths through different mouths, bodies, and cultures reminds me of the strangely eerie fact that almost all major religions have a Flood with a capital F story. The Judeo-Christian religions like to claim the story of the Flood, and Noah’s heroic actions with a hammer, as solely their own. And yet in the Epic of Gilgamesh*, the same story is enacted almost to a T, despite the tablets having been created in the 7th century B.C. (and perhaps recited before that). Now, we can of course just attribute this to Christianity borrowing another aspect of different religions and calling them its own. Or, as King seems to suggest in his novel, we can start to recognize that stories do not belong to any one religion, or any one people. Stories are shared equally and belong equally to all humans — big, small, white, black, Native American, etc. The one universal right that humankind has is to imagine, and be comforted, by story. The fact that two Biblical stories can fit so well into the lives of Native American people in the 1990s with differing circumstances without the world ending is evidence of that.

*I want to apologize for the Creationist tone of this website. I found that their comparison of Genesis and Gilgamesh was interesting, as well as their blatant anti-anything-not-Christian and “liberal” scholars.

Works cited

Izzard, Eddie. “The Origin of Christianity, Circle (2000).” YouTube, uploaded by Chris Z, December 18, 2009.

King, Thomas. Green Grass, Running Water. Toronto: HarperPerennial, 2007. Print.

Lorey, Frank. “The Flood of Noah and the Flood of Gilgamesh.” Institution for Creation Research. Acts and Facts 26 (3), 1997. Web. Accessed July 20, 2016.

“Standoff at Oka.” CBC Learning, 2001. Web. Accessed July 20, 2016.

Lesson 3:1; Assignment 3:2; Question 3

(Asked for an extension till July 11th, which Dr. Paterson graciously granted.)


“For this blog assignment, I would like you to explain why it is that Scott’s highly active role in the purposeful destruction of Indigenous people’s cultures is not relevant for Frye in his observations above? You will find your answers in Frye’s discussion on the problem of ‘historical bias’ (216) and in his theory of the forms of literature as closed systems (234 –5).”

 Northrop Frye

I found this question really hard to understand, and I can’t really explain why I decided to try and answer it anyway. I think I was drawn in by the juxtaposition Frye noted between the “starving squaw baiting a fish-hook with her own flesh, and … the music of Dubussy and the poetry of Henry Vaughan” (Frye, 221), elements in celebrated Canadian poet Duncan Campbell Scott’s work. Aside from the macabre image of someone using their skin to fish, in a completely objective and somewhat Romantic (with a capital R) point of view the juxtaposition of something so desperate with something so beautiful, like classical music, is fascinating.

But what the heck does it have to do with the assignment? I’ve decided to work out my thought process in this blog, answering the question in the process of deciphering it.

So. The question is: Why was Scott’s role in the destruction of indigenous cultures not relevant in Frye’s observation of the tension between civilized and primitive cultures? In other words, Frye highlights the dis-junction between Canadian literature that dealt with classical themes and mundane horrors, but he does not look further to the actual writers/poets who in their work romanticized or sympathized with the Natives’ plight but who in public advocated for their removal.

Does that sound right? I’m going to keep going.

I think what Dr. Paterson is looking for as an answer here, and what Frye pretty much explicitly states (in a roundabout way) is that Literature (with a capital L) has formulae.  There are literary conventions, plot tropes, stock characters — etc. We learn this in English class, and that seems pretty obvious. Frye writes: “The forms of literature are autonomous: they exist within literature itself, and cannot be derived from any experience outside literature. What the Canadian writer finds in his experience and environment may be new, but it will be new only as content: the form of his expression of it can take shape only from what he has read” (234). Frye goes on to say that the “great technical experiments of Joyce and Proust“* were only possible because they saw the “formal possibilities inherent in the literature they… studied. A writer who is or who feels removed from his literary tradition tends rather to take over forms already in existence” (234). In layman’s terms, Frye believes that Canadian literature has never taken off because, being separated from the great literary world as a sort of satellite consumer and producer of literature, Canadians can only adhere to what has gone before, and as such their original ideas and new experiences fall flat in stale formula.

But what does this have to do with the Indian woman baiting fish with her own flesh?

Ah. Perhaps that example is what Frye would call a new experience — something of which highly literate, educated, and esteemed men in England would never have even thought. But a dissertation on the musical theory of Debussy — ah, that they would understand. They would have lived and breathed dusty, methodical critical essays on Henry Vaughan, and chortled over biting satirical pamphlets on this-or-that radical, this-or-that out of favour politician. Scott, too, would be familiar with those types of literature, and would have striven, as a Canadian cut off from his sophisticated ancient homeland of Britain and the striving, thriving neighbour that was America, to emulate them. (At least, that is Frye’s argument, pages  220-21). And so Scott tries, sequestered in Canada, to draw inspiration for his great musical thesis or avant garde poetic criticism — and sees an Indian woman baiting a hook with her own flesh.

Perhaps he’s disgusted. Perhaps he’s sympathetic, or horrified, or offers to buy her food. Who knows. But an experience like that does not leave a person, and definitely changes a person — yet the great world trundles on, Britain trundles on, filled with sophisticated literary men who demand policies and expansion and Indian removal acts and without whom Canada would (the fear seems) be swallowed by the wilderness (as Frye eloquently puts its “to enter Canada is a matter of being silently swallowed by an alien continent” (219)).

Here, perhaps, is where I can see some reason, however indefensible, for Scott’s duality. He can express sympathy for the Vanishing Indian in his poetry, or empathy for a starving Indian woman and still advocate for policies that would destroy Indigenous culture because he is working in something bigger than himself, something that has always worked this way, something that to him seems out of his control, and to which he must adhere or be cast aside. Similar to literary conventions — there is a reason, as Frye points out, that Joyce and Proust succeeded while others failed. It was because they were so entrenched in the “literature they… studied” (Frye, 234) that they were able to manipulate from the inside out. Like that old age adage says — you have to know the rules before you break them. Joyce and Proust were in the driving seat of Literature — Scott was on the outside, offering halfheartedly to clean the window-shield.** The old white British men were formulating policies, or influencing governmental acts, or advising on how to gentrify the West — and Scott was handing out refreshments.

I think a familiarity with Scott’s work would help in understanding this assignment, or the ramification of Frye’s observations, a bit more. However, I did enjoy figuring out how exactly I was going to answer this, and I will definitely read a bit more into Frye (of whom I had never heard before) to really try and decipher his frame of mind.

*This article has nothing to do with this assignment, but is an example of the complexity and ingenuity of writers like Joyce (as well as the absolute lunacy, depending on which side you’re on), which he was only able to pull of because of his entrenchment in the literary world.

**This video clip is from Eddie Izzard’s tour Dressed to Kill, sometime in 1998. This link, again, has nothing to do with the assignment (though there are correlations between power and language that can’t go unremarked), but the metaphor I used of driving seat versus window washing comes directly from him, and I must give credit where credit is due.


Cook, Eleanor. “Frye, Herman Northrop.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography. University Toronto/Université Laval, 2009. Web. Accessed July 11, 2016.

Flood, Alison. “Scientists find evidence of mathematical structures in classic books.” The Guardian. The Guardian, January 27, 2016. Web. Accessed July 11, 2016.

Frye, Northrop. The Bush Garden. Ontario: House of Anansi Press Limited, 1995. Print.

jennyblues. “Eddie on EU.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, June 28, 2007. Web. Accessed July 11, 2016.

Maggs, Arnaud. Northrop Frye. 1983. Portrait Gallery of Canada, Canada. Library and Archives Canada. Web. Accessed July 11, 2016.