Biblical References in Thomas King’s "Green Grass, Running Water"

Seminar Paper, 2004

15 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction
1.1 About the Topic
1.2 Intertextuality

2. Analysis of the Mythical Stories
2.1 The Structure of the four Tales
2.2 Comparison Pre- and Intertext
2.2.1 Ahdamn and the Garden
2.2.2 King’s Noah and the Big Canoe full of Animals
2.2.3 A. A. Gabriel and the Virgin Verification Form
2.2.4 Young Man Walking On Water and the Fishing Boat

3. Conclusion
3.1 Relations vs. Rules
3.2 The Underlying Issues

4. Works Cited

1. Introduction

1.1 About the Topic

In reading Thomas King’s novel Green Grass, Running Water we inevitably come across many references to biblical names and stories. Intertextuality is a major technique in the novel and especially the mythical stories are explicitly interwoven with hints to the Bible. The author deals with canonical texts as well as with Indian myths and, as we’re going to see later, also with historical events etc. He takes up names and parts of the pre-text and re-writes them. “It is essential to note, however, that these pre-texts are not opposed to each other as part of a binary structure. Rather they interact with one another and form something new each time they are told”1.

Besides the many direct and indirect references, there are also several correspondences between the structure of Green Grass, Running Water and the Bible, e.g. the four stories told by the four old Indians can be seen as a parallel to the four gospels in the New Testament2. In the following I am going to focus on explicit references in the four mythical stories that develop in the conversation of the trickster Coyote and a first person narrator.

The main part of this analysis is the comparison between the biblical pre- texts and King’s re-writing. As the actual parallels are very few there has to be some other idea behind these intertextual devices. It is probably more about history and hierarchy than about the pure pre-text.

1.2. Intertextuality

Though the terminology differs in details, we can – in a first approach - assume that intertextuality refers to or describes relations between texts. In defining it as the transposition of one sign system into another, Julia Kristeva widens the meaning to an interaction of text and society or text and history3.

Clayton and Rothstein even point out that intertextuality can be a form of opposition against the influence of traditional hierarchies4. However, there is a difference between power influences and intertextuality:

Clayton (1991, 50) formuliert den Unterschied zwischen Einfluß und Intertextualität in diesem Sinne prägnant: „Das intertextuelle ‚Netzwerk’ ist auf eine Weise offen, wie die Relation des Einflusses es nicht ist. Einfluß geht nur in eine Richtung, während Intertextualität eine flexible Beziehung zwischen den Texten etabliert.“ Dabei wird dem Posttext eine Mehrdeutigkeit zugestanden, die sich aus der Konfrontation des einen Textes mit einer Vielzahl von Referenztexten ergibt. Entscheidend sind in dieser Relation jedoch nicht nur die Parallelen, sondern auch die Differenzen zwischen den Texten, denn die Interaktion, der Dialog erzeugt eine Spannung, die die semantische Bewegung des Intertextes ausmacht.5

By using this technique in multiple narratives, King “decentres any single authoritative perspective”6.

2. Analysis of the Mythical Stories

2.1 The Structure of the four Tales

In Green Grass King uses the Indian tradition of storytelling between the narrative ‘I’ and the trickster Coyote as the framework of the novel. The oral telling always involves changes depending on the storyteller, their memory and their mood and it is usually left open to the listener (or in our case the reader) to draw their own conclusion7. So it is consequential to note that according to the first-person-narrator “there are no truths […] only stories” (432)8. The reader is directly involved in the process of storytelling, they are even implicitly addressed on page 432.

The narrative ‘I’ makes four attempts to tell the story of creation but in the end the Indian tricksters/mythical women always end up being arrested in Fort Marion, Florida (which as a historical fact was a military prison for Indians), where they finally manage to escape. The traditional Indian mythical stories are, just like the other pre-texts, combined and slightly modified and thus not taken too serious9. On the very last page of the book the tale is directly linked to the beginning of the novel, which all in all leads us to a cyclical structure of the stories and the entire novel.

But why do we have to do this storytelling over and over again? Probably because the story, like the world, needs fixing. Unfortunately we can see that the four old Indian’s bid to fix a stereotypical John Wayne movie takes them several times until they finally succeed, “thirty-seven times that we know of” (49) to fix the world, which is still not properly fixed, and it seems to be just the same with the creation story. Yet there has to be a way to get it right (See 11 or 107) though Coyote and the narrator obviously do not manage it.

Within the tales King confronts the Indian mythical characters, which are a mixture of actual figures of Native creation stories, with biblical characters and figures that are taken from the literary canon. Unlike in their original context they have a rather rigid way of thinking and behave in a way one would not expect, so that the biblical stories appear to be ridiculed in comparison to the Indian myths. Anyway Gundula Wilke states, that “the author places emphasis on their equal importance”10.

2.2 Comparison Pre- and Intertext

2.2.1 Ahdamn and the Garden (38-42, 72-74)

The first attempt to tell the creation story seems to be a parody of the first chapters of the Bible, i.e. Genesis 2:4 – 3:24. First Woman, not God, creates a garden and Ahdamn lives with her. Ahdamn – quite obviously the name Adam rearranged into a four-letter word – appears by coincidence after First Woman falls out of the sky world, whereas in the biblical story Adam is the first human being11. With his inversion of the pre-text, King calls a patriarchal worldview12 into question.

While First Woman is out for a walk, Ahdamn starts to name everything in the garden, which is actually what Adam does with all livestock13. But Ahdamn gets all the names wrong. He only knows the names of goods of the western consumer society, but they don’t fit to the animals – maybe an indirect allusion to the generic misnomer ‘Indians’. Here is where we get the first hint that King parodies the colonizing process in the New World. Ahdamn, here as a prototype of the invaders of America, has a very limited view of reality. He only sees what he wants to see – and he names and treats the unknown according to his narrow-minded expectations. This is something that all of the biblical and canonical figures in these mythical stories have in common.

After First Woman received food from a tree King’s G O D is angry and doesn’t allow anyone to eat any food of his garden which is again an inversion of the biblical text, where God says: ”You are free to eat from any tree in the garden”14. There just the fruit of one tree is prohibited. So the demand of that G O D is actually similar to what the serpent in the Bible wants Adam and Eve to believe: “Did God really say ’you must not eat from any tree in the garden’?“15


1 : Fitz, Karsten, Negotiating History and Culture , Frankfurt a. Main 2001: 132

2 : See Wilke, Gundula, ”Re-Writing the Bible: Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water “ in Wolfgang Klooss (ed.), Across the Lines. Intertextuality and Transcultural Communication , Amsterdam 1998: 86

3 : See Schahadat, Schamma, ”Intertextualität: Lektüre – Text – Intertext“ in Miltos Pechlivanos (ed.), Einführung in die Literaturwissenschaft , Weimar 1995: 368

4 : See Schahadat 1995: 369

5 : Schahadat 1995: 373

6 : Horne, Dee, “To Know the Difference: Mimicry, Satire, and Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water .” Essays on Canadian Writing 56 (1995): 260

7 : See Fitz 2001: 161

8 : The page numbers of quotes from Green Grass are put in brackets within the text.

9 : See Fitz 2001: 132

10 : Wilke 1998: 85

11 : In fact, theologians say that there are actually two stories of how humankind came into being. In the first one (Genesis 1:27) both female and male are created at once, which denies patriarchal as well as matriarchal domination.

12 : Often patriarchal and biblical are considered to bet he same. “Das stimmt jedoch pauschal weder insgesamt noch für die Völker und Länder, von denen in der Bibel berichtet wird. Zwar ist es richtig, daß in den letzten Jahrhunderten vor Christi Geburt die offizielle jüdische Lehre ganz auf den Mann ausgerichtet war […]. In früher Zeit – und auch wieder in den ersten Christengemeinden – erfreuten sie [die Frauen] sich jedoch hoher Wertschätzung“ (Thompson, John. A., Hirten, Händler und Propheten: Die lebendige Welt der Bibel , Gießen 1999: 87). Thus unlike the works cited I do not equally deal with patriarchal, Christian, Eurocentric, white and Western worldview. To my mind the different ideas are far to complex and controversial to be named in the same breath.

13 : Genesis 2:20

14 : Genesis 2:16 (all Bible quotes are taken from the New International Version if not mentioned differently.)

15 : Genesis 3:1

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Biblical References in Thomas King’s "Green Grass, Running Water"
University of Constance
(Re-)Writing Gender in Contemporary Native North American Literature
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ISBN (Book)
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Thomas, Green, Thomas Green, Green Grass, Running Water, Green Grass Running Water, Biblical References, Biblical, Bible, Mythical Stories, Storytelling, Rules and Relations, Rules, Relations, Intertextuality, Comparison Pre- and Intertext, Old Testament, New Testament, Trickster, Fort Marion, Creation, Coyote, American Indian Movement, Gender, Native North American Literature, Native American, Rewriting, Cultural Studies, Culture, Amerikanische Literatur, Amerikanische Gegenwartsliteratur, Literaturwissenschaft, Bibel, Jesus
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Martin D. C. Bruch (Author), 2004, Biblical References in Thomas King’s "Green Grass, Running Water", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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