The Power of Native Humor in “Green Grass, Running Water”
Native American authors have a tendency to incorporate subtle humor into their literature in order to more easily address the cultural divide between Indians and people of the Western world. As previously discussed, in Sherman Alexie’s Flight, humor is used as a tool to comfortably navigate through controversial topics, such as ethnicity and cultural stereotypes. Now, in Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water, humor is used as a tool for undermining and eventually tipping over the boundaries that exist between the Indian world and the White world. Through the use of humor, King compels the reader to question these boundaries and challenge their authority. The reader is encouraged to blur the lines between the two separate worlds and to see past the “truths” about Native Americans that have been established by White institutions. “’There are no truths, Coyote,’ I says. ‘Only stories’”, and stories cannot be taken at face value. In Green Grass, Running Water, an unexpected bond is established between Natives and non-Natives; King combines humorous dialogue and ethnically disparate characters from historical, mythical, and Biblical tales to voice the trouble in believing the “truths” behind these tales, all the while reinstating the trouble in believing the “truths” behind Native American culture.
Humor in Green Grass, Running Water begins with Coyote, the trickster god who eventually turns all the plans into chaos with his songs and dances, and G O D, a being he dreamt into existence on accident. A humorous dialogue occurs between Coyote, G O D, and the narrator of the novel, “I,” on the first few pages, setting the tone for the rest of the story. “Where did all that water come from? shouts that G O D. ‘Take it easy,’ says Coyote. ‘Sit down. Relax. Watch some television’” (3). Coyote and G O D offer an interesting and humorous commentary on the storytelling that is being done by the narrator. According to Abitor Ibarrola-Armendariz in “Native American Humor As Resistance: Breaking Identity Moulds in Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water, this storytelling and commentary is an essential part of the novel in that they add a humor that is necessary to create a balance between the Indian world and the White world, all the while incorporating into it the Native American tradition of oral storytelling. As “I” retells, and completely reinvents, the story of creation, Coyote and G O D chime in with excitement and confusion. “I” mentions the story of the garden and the apple tree in which Adam and Eve, traditionally in the Bible, ate from. However, in this novel, “I” tells this Biblical tale as if the Tree could talk and the food falling out of it were apples and hot dogs and pizza and extra-crispy friend chicken. “Did someone say food?” (41). Humor is also seen in the reconstruction of the story of Noah’s ark later on in the novel. “I” tells the story as if there were a woman, Changing Woman, who fell out of the sky and into the boat. Noah assumes she is “a gift from heaven… my new wife” (160). In a humorous retelling of the Biblical tale, Noah says, “Lemme see your breasts… I like women with big breasts. I hope God remembered that” (160). Both are ridiculous versions of traditional, well-known Biblical tales, but in retelling these tales in such a ridiculous manner, King is encouraging the reader to acknowledge that all that he knows comes from tales told by other people. In questioning a tales’ authority, he must ask himself which tale holds any real truth. This can relate to the White culture believing the “truths” about Native American culture without concrete evidence.
Humor is then seen, throughout the novel, in the small interactions between characters. Dialogue between the characters is almost always comical on some level, but it always has an underlying message and an importance. Early on in the novel, Lionel and Norma are discussing the Dead Dog Café...
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