In his article titled “Chris Abani and the Politics of Ambivalence,” Matthew Omelsky makes several observations regarding the simultaneous expressions of cynicism and optimism by the characters in Graceland. He spends a good deal of time talking about the cynicism that is brought on by life in Lagos, after Elvis and the reader are confronted repeatedly with scenes of rape, abuse, torture, poverty, and death. He also notes that most of the optimism felt by the characters is generated by things that are inherently not Nigerian. Many characters dream of going to America. Elvis, Redemption, and the King of the Beggars take pleasure in films from America, Europe, and India. Elvis and Beatrice love listening to Western music, especially that of Elvis Presley. On page 146 of the novel, Elvis marvels at the fact that American tobacco companies pass out free cigarettes at movie screenings: “If they could get that here, in a dusty end-of-the-highway fishing town, they thought, America must indeed be the land of the great.”

Although Omelsky made several interesting arguments and posed some intriguing questions, it was his analysis of the novel’s final scene that really stood out to me. He argues that the scene at the airport is the climatic (or anti-climatic, depending on how you look at it) final accumulation of all the ambivalence that was presented throughout the novel. Elvis is going to America and leaving everything he knows behind in Nigeria. Are we supposed to think that America is his savior, and therefore the savior of all the Nigerians, if we are to look at this through Jameson’s lens of national allegory? Or was Redemption his savior for sacrificing his passport and visa for his friend, indicating that only a fellow Nigerian can be the savior? Did Elvis save himself? More interestingly, did Elvis actually get on the flight? The final line is Elvis saying, “Yes, this is Redemption,” but was there an underlying meaning in the word ‘redemption’?  Also, does Elvis’ story really end here? He truly believes that becoming a successful dancer will be instaneous upon arriving in America, but most of us know that is not necessarily the case. This ambivalence and unkown surrounding the final scene leaves me with a sense of uncertainty and lacks the final resolution that I have come to cherish at the end of a novel. I think Matthew Omelsky’s article really helped me clarify why exactly I felt such a sense of unease, and I highly recommend reading it if anyone else is interested in the politics, struggle between cynicism and hope, or the contrast of Western with Nigerian.


About audreyvorhees

Freshman at American University, studying International Development in sub-Saharan Africa, love travelling and African languages.

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