Washed Away

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?

Ocean Wave, Tsunami

Ocean Wave, Tsunami

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.


Works Cited:

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.


11 thoughts on “Washed Away

  1. Hi Linda,

    I find your answer to the question very thought provoking. I feel that you did a good job in providing relevant examples to make sense of your main arguments, for example, how you used the example of Columbus’s three ships to support your point about the treatment of Native American’s by European colonizers. I agree with your analysis that King wants to recreate the stories regarding the treatment of Native People in North America through the stories of Alberta, Lionel and Eli regarding the beginning of creation as I found that to be very thought provoking. My question for you is what are your thoughts on King’s statement that creation can’t occur without water? Awesome work!


    • Thank you Deepak for your comment and question.

      I agree with King’s statement that creation can’t occur without water, especially when you view creation as birth of a biological entity. When you think of it, nothing on this earth can exist without water, and nothing can be born without water. Consider the birth of a child, or the explosion of a seed into a plant. However, if you view creation as the birth of an idea, as in art, literature, etc., then creation can occur without water. But if you take this one step further, the person creating the idea, first needs to be born (through water), so perhaps no creation can occur without water.

      That answer, like King’s story, is rather circular.

      Take care,


  2. Great post Linda!
    You’ve really tied all the watery threads together, and, like Natasha, helped me understand it better too. I also thought of the water, and the dam breaking, in terms of a new birth, when the waters break, and the baby is born…And I think the cycling back to the beginning of creation may be connected to the medicine wheel idea that everything is connected, with no beginning and no end, just a constant re-cycling? Do you think the medicine wheel is at play here? I think this may be partly what Julia is getting at too with her comment that in First Nations “storytelling, the past, present and future all influence each other.”

    • Thanks Claudia for your comment and question,

      I think the medicine wheel has to be at play throughout the novel. After all each part in the book is named for a direction on the medicine wheel. As for tying the medicine wheel and water together, I believe that the medicine wheel includes the four elements that sustain life, one of these being water. I hope that answers your question.

      Take care,


  3. Hi Linda,

    You’ve made an excellent connection between water, flood, and rebirth. From King’s words sometimes I detect motion sickness, there is constant relocations and mapping. Aside from the geography, there is the coming home of the characters to their cultural identity; e.g. Eli guarding the house against the dam, and Alberta operating the Dead Dog Café. Without things vanishing, there can be no rebirth. Back to the motion sickness, there is a very permanent instability in Green Grass, Running Water – everyone is on the move, everything is transforming. That could be King’s interpretation of First Nation storytelling, which is fluid, adaptive, and reflective. Would love to know your thoughts.

    – John

    • Hi John,

      Thank you for your comments. I never considered the idea that motion sickness comes from King’s words, but after reading your thoughts I can see what you mean. Throughout the novel there is plenty of movement. In addition to this, there is also a lot of motion on and through water. I am not sure I agree that this feeling of motion sickness is an interpretation of First Nation storytelling, but instead I feel it is more a way of showing the reader the wrongness of the current situation in modern First Nation’s communities. I believe it is a method of making the reader uncomfortable, so hopefully they will do something to help remedy the situation.

      Take care,


  4. Hi Linda,

    The observations you made are very insightful and definitely helped me in my interpretation of some of the events in GGRW. I like how you said that King links the stories of the characters back to the story of creation, and the element of water, because he wants them to re-create their own stories and for the story of how Natives have been treated to also be re-created. I think that water is very much an element of change. If you look at water from a science perspective we know that water never stays in the same state. It is constantly going through different transformations, much like the characters in King’s novel. Water also has the symbolic element of having the power to wash you clean. We see this in Christian religions with baptism, but even with religion aside it can be argued that water can have the potential to change us and give us a chance to “re-create”. Like going swimming in the ocean, or having a really cleansing shower. Its cool to see how King uses water in his novel by linking it to the Creation story, with events that are happening with the characters. Great post!

    – Natasha

    • Hi Natasha,

      Thank you for your comments, and I am glad I helped you in your interpretation. I agree with you that water is very much an element of change, and I would like to add to this thought. Water can also be very powerful. Consider the effects of a tsunami, or even the power obtained from a dam.

      Take care,


  5. Hi Linda,

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this question. It seemed like a tricky one to me. In my own reading I was confused about the significance of the car subplot and why they all ended up in the dam, so I appreciate your interpretation of that as well. One thing I also thought of was that, in some of our readings we learned about the cyclical nature of Native storytelling and how they feel that what happens in the past, present and future all influence each other. Perhaps that’s another reason why King wanted to start his stories all the way back at the creation of the world, in order to inform what was going on for his characters in the present.

    • Hi Julia,

      Thank you for your comments, and I am glad I helped clarify why the cars ended up in the dam. I agree with your insight, that King wanted to start his stories at creation, because life is cyclical, and those stories tie in directly to the modern stories.

      Take care,


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