2.3 My Oral and Literary Experiences With “Coyote Makes a Deal with the King of England”

In his article, “Godzilla vs. Post-Colonial,” King discusses Robinson’s collection of stories. King explains that while the stories are written in English, “the patterns, metaphors, structures as well as the themes and characters come primarily from oral literature.” More than this, Robinson, he says “develops what we might want to call an oral syntax that defeats reader’s efforts to read the stories silently to themselves, a syntax that encourages readers to read aloud” and in so doing, “recreating at once the storyteller and the performance” (186). Read “Coyote Makes a Deal with King of England”, in Living by Stories. Read it silently, read it out loud, read it to a friend, and have a friend read it to you. See if you can discover how this oral syntax works to shape meaning for the story by shaping your reading and listening of the story.Write a blog about this reading/listening experience that provides references to the story.

This assignment certainly opened my eyes regarding how stories can be interpreted in different ways. I framed my approach to the story around the fundamental ideas that are associated with the oral and literature cultures. I engaged with the story in three different ways: I read it silently, I read it to my neighbor, and my neighbor read it to me. Each experience was valuable because it brought different meanings to the story for me. I had different emotions about the meaning of the story, as well as the words and characters that are used. The oral syntax used by Robinson had a much more resounding impact when I heard that story as opposed to when I read it.

I began this literary adventure by reading the story silently. I was lost throughout the duration of the story and I did not understand what Robinson was trying to do. I had trouble understanding the story right after I read the first sentence: “For a long time, Coyote was there on the water, sitting on that boat” (Robinson 64). I could not wrap my head around this visualization and from that point on I approached the story as a fictional fairy tale. The coyote and the king just did not seem real to me. I realize that I am guilty of what Carlson points out in his article “Orality about Literacy: ‘The Black and White’ of Salish History”, where he states that, “Among literate westerners, historical accuracy is measured in relation to verifiable evidence” (57). I definitely took this too literally as I pictured the Coyote on the boat and realized that there is no evidence of that ever happening. When i read to myself, I approach the text as a historical artifact. I only read non-fiction silently. Any other piece of reading material (anything that is non-fiction) I read aloud to myself.

In “Godzilla vs. Post-Colonial”, Thomas King introduces the idea of Associational Literature. He brings up an interesting point regarding Western readers that i kept in my mind while I read the story aloud to my neighbor: “Non-Natives may, as readers, come to an association with these communities, but they remain, always, outsiders” (189). I began to make sense of the story as I read it aloud and I understood the mistakes I made in interpreting it the first time around. I am an outsider and I should not be able to completely understand the idea of the Coyote and the First Nations culture. However, reading this story aloud had a much more different impact for me. I used it as a performance for my audience. There was one particular passage which I emotionally connected with that was absent when I read it silently: “They just don’t care for them. They just go and claim the land and they just do as they like” (Robinson 70). These words were directed towards the King from Coyote, as he explains the torture that his people go through when the King’s children come to Coyote’s land. I took Coyotes position and spoke these words as I imagined he would have spoken. I truly spoke to my audience from the heart and for that brief moment, I could feel the Coyote’s pain. The words became physical as sound permeated through the air (I highly recommend for you to read this article by Walter Ong, in which he explains the true value behind words) I was able to appreciate the oral syntax used by Harry Robinson.

The meaning of the story had the most influence on me when I listened to it. I did not have any biases or reservations when it came to the story, I just sat on my chair and listened to my neighbor. I looked at everything with a fresh perspective and really used my listening tools. I listened intently to every word that was being said. I did not feel lost anymore like I did when I first read the story to myself. Everything began to slowly make sense. I think being a listener instead of the story teller allowed me dissociate myself and understand the motivations behind both cultures in the story. I understood the value of detribalization in the sense that I took myself out of the story and viewed it from an outsiders perspective. The words finally began to make sense. I began to understand the meaning behind Robinson’s use of the plural. For example, when the Coyote instructs the cook to tell the King that he wants to meet with him, the Coyote refers to himself as “They” rather than “I”: “You tell him, There’s another king that was standing there at the door. They want to see you” (Robinson 69). When I read these sentences, I had no idea what to think, but when I listened to it, I think I understand what Robinson means. The Coyote is not speaking only for himself, but rather his entire nation and culture. He symbolizes the voice for the First Nations people. The Coyote is not an animal, not a single person. The Coyote is the entire community. Every first nations person is the King. Thomas King puts it best when he states that the Assocational Literature that is written by Harry Robinson points “towards the group rather than the single, isolated character” (187). I was able to appreciate the cultural and familial aspect of the listening aspect as opposed to the isolated action of reading the story by myself.

Works Cited

Carlson, Keith Thor. “Orality and Literacy: The ‘Black and White’ of Salish History.” Orality & Literacy: Reflectins Across Disciplines. Ed. Carlson, Kristina Fagna, & Natalia Khamemko-Frieson. Toronto: University of Toronto P, 2011. 43-72.

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

Robinson, Harry. “Coyote Makes a Deal with the King Of England.” Living by Stories: a Journey of Landscape and Memory. Ed. Wendy Wickwire. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2005. 64-85.

2 thoughts on “2.3 My Oral and Literary Experiences With “Coyote Makes a Deal with the King of England”

  1. CharlotteHodgson

    Hi Rajin,

    Thank you for your detailed reflection of what happened when you read the story. I am wondering, however, whether you understood the story at the end more than at the start because often things needs to be read multiple times before they are fully understood, or whether hearing the story out loud, or getting a difference perspective from your neighbour had the greatest effect on your final understanding of the story?

    – Charlotte

  2. RajinSidhu Post author

    Hi Charlotte,

    I think it both scenarios played a factor into the development of my understanding of the story. Experiencing the story multiple times allowed me to pick up on certain things that i did not understand the first time I read the story. If I had to choose which way had the greatest effect on my final understanding of the story, it would be as a listener when my neighbour read it to me. I was able to just focus on the story as a performance rather than getting caught up in prose of the story (which I found confusing to follow, and had to go back and forth multiple times to understand what was going on). Generally, I follow short stories better when I listen to them as opposed to reading them.

    Thank you for commenting on my blog post!
    Rajin Sidhu

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