In Chris Abani’s novel GraceLand, the themes of food, music, and the occult are emerging as common symbols, much like they did in Half of a Yellow Sun and Things Fall Apart. I find myself most interested in how Abani is able to describe the supernatural aspects of Nigerian life through Oye’s character and what Oye’s character brings to the novel’s story in general.
First off, Oye is characterized as a witch. This is obviously her immediate tie to the occult aspect of the novel. She tells Elvis of the dead being buried and becoming trees, while also threatening to turn him into one of her turtles. At one point she even criticizes society by explaining why she does not talk to her turtles in public, saying, “‘I know tha difference between a gift and insanity’” (Okri 103). She can also be seen putting herbs in Beatrice’s tea and saying incantations to ward off the demons of the magicians to prevent them from possessing Elvis.
Secondly, Oye has picked up a Scottish accent because she used to work for missionaries. Here is her tie to the colonial days. Not only does her presence as the grandmother signify her as the voice of the past, but the British influence on her personality too serves a similar purpose to the story.
Lastly, Elvis’s worry that he will lose Oye proves important as well. She is his last true inkling of the past. The struggle with modernity is common amongst themes found in Nigerian literature, and it appears here in GraceLand. While Elvis is the new generation moving things forward, Oye holds memories of a time when Elvis had a mother and was not making money for his drunken father, stepmother, and stepsiblings. Abani is able to use Oye as the deterrent for modernization.