3:2 What’s In a Name?

  Thomas King wants us to read aloud so as to “maintain the dialogic fluidity of oral storytelling performance in written text” (Chester). By writing a novel that leads the reader to benefit from reading passages and sections aloud, King connects the text-based content within “Green Grass Running Water” with an oral storytelling tradition of performance and dialogue. This interactive and “dialogical” platform from which King writes, combines Native oral tradition with non-Native approaches to storytelling to great effect (Chester). King does this in order to highlight the different ways in which the material can be offered to the audience, and to comment on the various ways that people digest and understand the stories and the traditions that give birth to them. Blanca Chester suggests that the way in which King approach his stories and characters in “Green Grass Running Water” “suggests viewing Western theory through the lens of Native experience and traditions, rather than the other way around” (Chester). As such, and by asking the reader to read aloud, for example, King emphasizes the importance of Native oral tradition while also establishing that the novel and the act of reading a novel can be interactive – that a novel can express many layers and be understood deeply when read in the context of an oral storytelling tradition. Viewing “Green Grass Running Water” through a Native lens may therefore provide a richer and more rewarding experience for the reader as it is meant to emphasize the power of Native oral traditions.

Throughout the novel, King asks the reader to engage in both the western process of reading a novel and the Native oral storytelling tradition. He does so in order to engage the reader in something perhaps unfamiliar and to underline the idea that it is possible to combine the two mediums to tell engaging stories and to uncover differing world-views and ways of approaching stories. By creating a situation where the reader benefits from reading the text aloud, King carries on the tradition of oral storytelling through his writing. He ensures that the importance of oral storytelling is not lost on the reader of “Green Grass Running Water” by creating moments and passages that yearn to be read aloud and shared in a dialogical way. In fact, this is the only way to gain access to some of the material. By reading the text aloud the reader also “becomes an active participant in the process of constructing “the text”” and engaging with it’s meaning (Chester). By reading aloud the reader may uncover some of the allusions and references in King’s text that are more or less hidden to the silent reader. In other words, by reading aloud, and through a Native storytelling lens, the reader is able to find the irony, humour, and  messages contained in certain passages or character names.

Three such instances in King’s novel are in his use of character names. Dr. Joseph Hovaugh (Jehova), Louis, Ray and Al (Louis Riel), and Sally-Jo Weyha (Sacajawea) are examples of how King “emphasizes the sound of names as puns so that only through their aurality does the reader understand their reference” (Chester). In each of these examples, King is asking the reader to uncover the significance of the names as well as the secondary narrative that the reference implies. By reading these names aloud, the reader enjoys a laugh and is automatically connected to the oral storytelling tradition that necessitates interaction with the text. By either mouthing these names, as I first did, or by speaking them aloud, the reader is entering “into a highly contexted discourse where every name suggests a story, and every story suggests yet another story (Chester). Listening for imbedded stories and meanings within a story is common in Native oral tradition. In “Green Grass Running Water” King playfully introduces these and other characters to the narrative that then lead to additional stories and connections with historical significance. King intentionally asks his readers to speak up so as to maintain these types of connections to orality and to continue the Native oral tradition within the novelistic form”(Chester).

Works Cited

Chester, Blanca. “Green Grass, Running Water: Theorizing the World of the Novel”. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 9 Aug. 2012. Web. 17 Mar. 2014.

“Green Grass, Running Water Character Analysis”. Schoolworkhelper. St Rosemary Educational Institute., n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2014

“Sacagawea – Reunited and Saved”. biography.com. N.p.,n.d. Web. 17 Mar.2014.

“Louis Riel Biography”. Manitoba.ca. N.p.,n.d. Web.17 Mar. 2014.


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2 Responses to 3:2 What’s In a Name?

  1. Zara Dada says:

    Hi Paul,

    Great post! I agree, aurality is a very useful tool in deciphering King’s magical allusions! However, I struggled to fully engage in the story as a participant. When I read Robinson’s “Coyote Makes a Deal With the King of England”, an interfusional piece of literature, I found it easier to enter the story as an active participant, at once “recreating the storyteller and the performance” (King, “Godzilla vs. Postcolonial”186). However, I struggled to participate in King’s Green Grass, Running Water because I was unsure of my role in the story. My uncertainty stemmed from the fact that King had already enlisted “I” as a character in his work. To me, it almost seemed as though King himself was the participant – the storyteller – and I was to be a detached listener, watching King navigate through his story. Did you share my struggle in entering King’s novel as a participant? What are your thoughts on the role of “I” in King’s story?

    Thank you for a thought–provoking post!

    Zara 🙂

    King, Thomas. “Godzilla vs. Post-Colonial.” Unhomely States: Theorizing English-Canadian Postcolonialism. Mississauga, ON: Broadview, 2004. 183- 190. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.

    • paulseymour says:

      Hi Zara,

      Thanks for replying to my post. I am with you. Since the reader of Green Grass Running Water is essentially ‘listening in’ on a story being told by the narrator, “I”, who is actually retelling stories to Coyote, I think that feeling a little detached as a participant is understandable. I too was unsure of my role as a reader throughout. Although I don’t think it took away from my experience or enjoyment of the stories, I found myself feeling as if I was on the outside looking in on the stories. Since “I” was speaking primarily to Coyote, I began to wonder if I, the reader, should become Coyote and enter the story that way. I think that reading the novel through a second time might shed some light on how I should participate in all that is going on. Perhaps a second reading would allow the reader to join King, rather than watch him, navigate through his story. Thanks again, Zara. See you in the online conference.

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