Amidst all of the chaos that surrounds Elvis while living and growing up in Lagos, there exists a notion of redemptive justice that provides for both fluidity and restoration in the lives of the characters in Christopher Abani’s Graceland. This redemptive quality of life as seen by Elvis begins at the tender age of five, during the scene in which he walks the length of the road surrounded by bush mango trees. He recalls his grandmother telling him the origin of the mango trees, of how they grew from the heads of criminals and murderers. Oye states how “In death they were given a chance to be useful, to feed fruit-bearing trees,” (p. 21) a notion which he finds incomprehensible and hard to manage mentally. Elvis only feels “the ghosts of the criminals reaching out to him” (p. 21), an action which expresses a desire for sympathy on behalf of the criminals so heavily detested by everyone else. This alternative understanding of redemption and distinguishes him at an early age from the rest of society through his ability to empathize with those at the bottom of the social ladder.

Even as he grows older Elvis seems to seek out a fight against this redemptive natural order. Rather than save his money, he spends it providing meals for his beggar friends, people who have faced the brunt end of life’s redemption and have become downtrodden and are thus now begging for their survival. A clear case of this embattlement is seen in the actions of Elvis’ close friend, Redemption in the flesh. In one particular case during a meal, Redemption gets up to leave and, on his way out, looks at Elvis’ smiling beggar friend Caesar in the face while in the doorway, then chooses to look away and spit on the ground in disgust (p. 95) (to which Caesar modestly responds, “Your friend is not very nice”).

Redemption seeks out the people in the harsh, arduous Lagos environment and marginalizes, even attempts to disregard them. Elvis witnesses this first-hand through his relationships and in his attempts to gain success as a street entertainer. These experiences are what provide Elvis with his outstanding ability to sympathize with others and befriend the characters and beings who are most at odds with the world. They enable him to feel for others who society has otherwise ultimately abandoned.

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About ethanmcleod

I'm a sophomore Public Communications major at AU and I like reading books.

One response »

  1. I read this book years ago, mainly because I am an Elvis fan and I was curious about the connection. The book was published in England but did not have a great impact. It left a mark on me, though. I felt the world it described was intolerable and I had sympathy for the main character. The policeman was also memorable and helped define themes and characterisation really well. Odd how such books reappear in a life.

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