Finding Meaning, Pages One to Twenty

As Nate mentioned, when he Gwaliga and I received the first twenty pages of the book we were excited. It seemed like an easy task. However, it has proven to be difficult. With very little content to work with and no solid story line, it is hard to discover allusions and even harder to explain them in depth. However, King does integrate allusions into the beginning of his novel, beginning with the title.

Often overlooked, the title is an allusion in itself. “Green Grass Running Water” refers to a statement made in American Native rights legislation. Specifically, the title alludes to a statement made in the “Indian Trade and Intercourse Act” of 1802. Long story short, this act was responsible for further segregation of settlers and Natives. Natives were to abide by state laws if they chose not to move west and allow settlers the land they wanted. Otherwise, if they wanted to continue in their way of life and abide by the rules and way of life established by their tribe as well as receive financial support from the state, they would have to flee. When passed, Andrew Jackson who was responsible for the legislation, sent an army major to explain the act to the tribes affected. The message, personally written by Jackson, contained this passage:

“Say to the chiefs and warriors that I am their friend, that I wish to act as their friend but they must, by removing from the limits of the States of Mississippi and Alabama and by being settled on the lands I offer them, put it in my power to be such-There, beyond the limits of any State, in possession of land of their own, which they shall possess as long as Grass grows or water runs. I am and will protect them and be their friend and lather.”

To Natives, this statement seemed as though it was a feeble attempt by Jackson to relate to their way of life and was taken offensively. Therefore, it has been passed down from generation to generation to personify the ignorance of settlers.

There is also significance in the title of part one of Green Grass Running Water. Translated to “East, Red” this title is consistent with the medicine wheel concept we have discussed in class. Not only does the novel start in the East, but the colour red can be taken as a warning for the broken story that is to follow. In part one, nothing is working, everything is broken, and from a the perspective of the reader – not a whole lot makes sense. However, medicine wheel allusions in the first twenty pages of the book don’t stop there. We are introduced to the four women, four old men, and come across words which are repeated four times simultaneously – both of which represent the four spheres of the medicine wheel.

“Okay, I’ll begin again,” said the Lone Ranger

“Okay,” said Ishmael 

“Okay,” said Robinson Crusoe

“Okay,” said Hawkeye 

Thomas Kings “Green Grass Running Water” Page 11. 

There names of the four old men even have meaning. Each name alludes to white characters from popular literature who were portrayed as the only heroic and intelligent. However, by making these characters of Native decent in his novel, he creates irony.

Further allusions can be found in the dialogue of the first twenty pages, Jehova (God) is alluded to through the character Dr. J Hovaugh, O’Canada is alluded to when thought women sings “hosanna da”, and we often find ourselves faced with the concept of water – a theme evident in many Native creation stories.

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