The theme that drives most of the action in Green Grass, Running Water is the conflict between Native American culture and White culture. King establishes this most potently in the fantastical back stories of the four old Native American men. In each story, a character from the Native American tradition interacts with a Biblical figure and then a character from White literature or film. Tellingly, each of the four old Native Americans eventually adopts a name from these White works. The four characters come from works by white writers for white audiences that feature Native American characters: Robinson Crusoe from the eponymous novel by Daniel Defoe, Ishmael from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Hawkeye from James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, and The Lone Ranger, the titular hero of radio and television serials.
King furthers this theme of cultural conflict by demonstrating the power that popular culture has in shaping one society’s perception of another. In addition to the names of the four Native American elders, King utilizes the American Western as a means of exploring the White world’s misconception of Native Americans. Throughout King’s novel, characters read novels or watch films that feature stereotypical Cowboys-versus-Indians plots. In the middle of the novel, all of the major characters find themselves watching an old black-and-white western starring John Wayne. Charlie’s father, Portland, has a minor featured role as an Indian chief, and the four Native American elders also appear in it unexpectedly. King then upends this stereotype when Bill Bursum plays the video the next day and the ending is mysteriously changed to show the Native Americans victorious.
King explores the cultural conflict in religious terms by satirizing the Biblical figures. In doing so, King points out the hypocrisy in the White community’s view of Native American spirituality as primitive. When Changing Woman finds herself on Noah’s Ark, the ship is overrun with...
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