January 22, 2014
This Jterm, I decided to “get my Paideia II course out of the way”. However, to my surprise, I find myself to be absolutely adoring the class. And now I can’t really say I’m getting it out of the way but rather enjoying every moment of it and hoping the month of January slows down before it’s all over! The course is called “Literature and Religion,” team-taught by the heads of both departments, and boy, do they work magic. They manage to be serious, funny, ask important questions that never even crossed my mind and make me look at world differently all together. And despite the fact that we read more than 100 pages a day and write like maniacs, I still love every moment. The novels are deliciously addicting, I have so much to say about all of them, and I get better and better every time at close reading, analyzing, writing convincing papers…By the end of this month, I feel like I will be a total expert at all of this!
I never thought that I would enjoy this course so much, but it has turned into quite the romantic Jterm. Sure, other people are traveling the world, but I’m just happy to be back on this beautiful campus - snuggling up with my coffee, reading, analyzing and writing. And as it turns out, I love that kind of stuff. And it happens to be pretty darn useful too.
Take a look at my latest essay if you’re interested – this new concept blew my mind:
In the comic novel, Green Grass, Running Water, Thomas King jumps between four unique stories, which gradually begin to intersect with one another. King begins the novel with an abstract story of the earth’s creation. But its listeners, who can never stop doubting, correcting, and asking questions, constantly interrupt the telling of the story. The author’s most disruptive character, however, is Coyote. In fact, I would even argue that King wants us to be annoyed with Coyote at first. After all, it is his fault we can’t get anywhere in the story. But as the novel progresses, we realize that the author may be trying to say something worthwhile in the midst of Coyote’s disruptions.
It seems as though Coyote serves to awaken us to our flawed society. In his naive, child-like way, he questions the unwritten rules that we accept without ever giving any thought. So often, we mindlessly move through the motions of our every-day lives, following practices that exclude, disrespect and hurt others: “‘Whites are compassionate…That’s a white gift.’ ‘Wait a minute, says Coyote, ‘I’m compassionate too. I must be a White’” (p. 434). Coyote tries to open our eyes to the flaws that the rest of us are in too deep to see. He recognizes that certain societal benchmarks are awry in many ways and he isn’t afraid to question them.
This is not to say that Coyote is a flawless character either. In fact, he seeks to make sense of some of the social rules his human friends attempt to beat into him: “‘Hmmm,’ says Coyote, ‘All this floating imagery must mean something’” (p. 391). Clearly, he is aware of his differences and he’s concerned about fitting in, as he will often chime in with phrases like, “‘Hooray!...I love Christian rules!’” (p. 388). Still, isn’t his sincere attempt to understand their world just another part of what makes his character all the more winning? At the same time, his ability to fearlessly analyze their flaws remains prevalent throughout the story: “‘Whoa,’ says Coyote, ‘That’s not a nice thing to say. That hurts my feelings’” (p. 360). The other story-tellers take Coyote through a personal journey in which he is left to decide whether he wants to agree or find fault with the values implied in the story.
Perhaps the author decided to make the bold, courageous character a coyote because the animalistic world is one of disorder. Thomas King paints us a picture of a society that highly values order – a world dependent upon institutions such as schools, hospitals, police. To the other storytellers, coyote represents chaos, and this explains why they always ignore his ideas. The storytellers seek to categorize; to keep everything in tidy little boxes. In their minds, the orderly way, which they try to impress on Coyote time and time again, is the only way the world can go on turning. In contrast, Coyote is comfortable with the chaos of “singing and dancing”, “burps and farts”. The changes he suggests naturally provoke disorder (as all changes come with uncomfortable adjustments). However the coyote, curious and insightful as he is, knows that this change is necessary and that chaos can be fun.
Having come from this animalistic world, Coyote has a distinct upbringing from his human friends and he sees their society with fresh eyes. The other characters scold him for not knowing these unwritten social rules: “‘Pay attention…or we’ll have to do this again’” (p. 112). Isn’t it interesting, though, how the others believe themselves to be so highly informed and therefore assume Coyote to be a lowly, useless thing who can’t understand how the world works? In reality, the Coyote should be their savior. He brings a completely different walk of life to the table, allowing him to provide them with new insight. Such insight could be powerful enough to inspire change for a more just world. Yet Thomas King reminds us how daunting change can be, by never allowing the other characters to submit to Coyote’s new suggestions.
Thomas King does a crafty job of making us feel this range of emotions for the coyote. The author magically provokes us to feel annoyed and uncomfortable, similar to the feelings we suffer when we adjust to change. Yet somehow he manages to reel in those negative feelings and make us love Coyote by the end, even in his steadfast, bold obnoxiousness. As readers, we realize how much easier it is to close our eyes to the societal flaws in our world. We get so caught up in the monotony of our every-day lives that, unless the issues affect us personally, such flaws become easier and easier to ignore. Thanks to the coyote, we are awakened to some of the bad practices we’ve been ignorantly taking part in.
Sure, at the beginning, all we want is for the coyote to shut up and go away. But through Coyote, Thomas King reminds us that what is easier is not necessarily what is right. Coyote could have let the others go on telling the story, but by interrupting with questions, we learn to be analytical of the world around us as well. As we experience the frustration of Coyote’s disruption and gradually grow to appreciate him, we realize how rewarding and life-changing disorder has the potential to be. The coyote inspires us to analyze, ask questions, doubt, create disorder - not only because it gives us the chance to improve ourselves and those around us, but also because it encourages the messiness of ‘song and dance, of farts and burps’, and after hearing what the coyote has to say, it turns out that messiness is in fact a whole lot of fun.