In the article “Becoming Black and Elvis: Transnational and Performative Identity in the Novels of Chris Abani,” Amanda Aycock touches on several issues that we’ve discussed in class. Categorizing characters and trying to figure out where individuals stand and how their names are relative to their identities are major factors in the novel. Aycock writes, “Chris Abani avoids normative categorization almost as well as his characters do. Fluid categories, identity that is always in flux, a mix – or, to use Abani’s word, a ‘mongrelization’ – of culture and identity: these are the issues that Abani has witnessed in his own life and the issues that shape the thematic backbone of his novels” (11).  Much of the novel is the push and pull of the traditional versus the modern, and the sexual ambiguity between homosexuality and heterosexuality. The identity of Elvis is the main example of this; he is constantly struggling, changing, and figuring himself out as the reader attempts to do the same. Even at the end, the reader leaves Elvis in another transformation, into a new identity as Redemption.

Aycock also discusses the structure of the novel in a different way than we have in class. She discusses the snippets in the beginning of each chapter to contrast Elvis’s emotional and violet life. This compels the reader “to recognize that there is more to a culture, to life, to ‘becoming’ than can ever be recognized in historical or anthropological texts, or in any text” (14). The snippets provide a small dose of history or culture while Elvis provides the reader with a more personal look into this lifestyle. Aycock also discusses Beatrice’s journal entries at the end of each chapter to show “this ancient kingdom is the invisible history of women, the silenced oral tradition of half the population, which Beatrice and Abani disseminates as valid yet all too often unacknowledged human experiences” (14). Women in this novel play an important part, especially Beatrice. Even though she is dead through most of the novel, her words are intertwined into every chapter, showing her importance in Elvis’ life. She is also a ghost that appears to Sunday; she haunts Sunday just as she haunts the book with her story. The snippets of information as well as journal entries from Beatrice give the novel more than just Elvis’s story; it provides culture, traditions and historical elements that the reader wouldn’t get otherwise.

Lastly, Aycock ends her article discussing transformation in Graceland. She writes that, “gratification comes from the process of ‘becoming’ and that in actuality, one never actually ‘becomes.’ His characters do not achieve an unsatisfactory result: they deny the existence of a result” (24). The entire novel is a process of individuals moving and changing. By ending in another transformation, Abani denies the reader of a conclusion. This is because there is no result; it is not a matter of the destination but purely about the journey. Although Elvis’ journey has ended in Nigeria, he is starting a new journey, a new ‘becoming’ as Redemption in America.

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About karadim

I am a first year graduate student at American University's MA Literature program.

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