Masculinity, and what it means to be a man is an important theme throughout Graceland. Elvis is struggling to find a male role model whom he can look up to.  So far, the contenders are his father, Sunday, The King of the Beggars, and Redemption. Each of these men have are trying to teach Elvis how to live his life and be a man but in very different ways. 

Sunday’s lessons are hypocritical and Elvis does not respond well to them. Sunday wants respect but Elvis cannot respect a man who has killed a member of his own family and protected a rapist.  Sunday justifies his actions to Elvis, “You don’t understand de difficulty of trying to be a man in dis society. So many expectations, so much pressure. You will see.” (Abani 186) Sunday felt like his actions were justified, he did them to save face and preserve his honor.  Elvis finally comes to realize that maybe Sunday did what he did to preserve the honor of a good name in order to make life easier for Elvis when he is a man.

The King of the Beggars seems like a better option as a role model than Sunday.  He seems to me like he is genuinely trying to help Elvis. He has nothing to gain from assisting him and nothing to lose from it either. He is trying to open up Elvis’ eyes to the world.  The King of the Beggars shows Elvis new things, and gives him new experiences. He warns Elvis away from hanging out with Redemption, which I think is wise advise.

Redemption is a terrible role model.  He is shady and does not seem to have a moral bone in his body.  All he does is come up with ways to make money, and these schemes are not safe for Elvis.  Despite Redemption’s faults I think that he gives Elvis a much needed wake up call by telling him he is selfish.  Elvis, for the most part does what he needs to do for his own survival and does not help anyone else out.  However, he feels bad about this, especially when he sees the two separate events of men burning to death.  Elvis is not an uncaring person.  He is concerned with the well fare of others but he is concerned with himself more.  Maybe this is the reason why everyone has been telling him he is a child and not yet a man.  Maybe, in order to be a “man”, you have to put others before yourself.



About Bethany

I am a Junior at American University, pursuing a degree in International Studies. I am particularly interested in development in Africa, especially when it comes to education. I am going abroad to Senegal for the spring semester and will be writing about my adventures here.

2 responses »

  1. cregacho07 says:

    I think it is important to note the differences amongst Elvis’s male figures, but I disagree with Redemption’s label, as being a bad role model. By our standards, Redemption is terrible. But given the systemic weakness of Nigeria, people like Redemption are left with little choice. The fact that Redemption’s shady dealings are being directed by Nigerian military elite exposes Redemption’s role as not a evil doer, but a person left with no other alternative
    Despite being a drug dealer and gangster, Redemption demonstrates to Elvis the importance of brotherhood. This is the bond that is fostered between the two.
    I like your point about to be a man, you have to put other before yourself. If this is the definition of a man, there are no men in “Graceland”, as all of them, including Elvis are self-interested. There is an exception with King of the De Beggars

  2. kwhudkins says:

    I agree that Redemption offers Elvis a little more moral guidance than we have given him credit for. He most certainly gives him a sense of brotherhood, but I would also argue that Redemption demonstrates a sense of community and obligation to your kin. He always helps Elvis out with a job. The job may not always be moral/ legal, however it does not seem to be one of Redemption’s priorities to keep Elvis innocent, but instead he is focused on providing for Elvis and making sure Elvis can provide for himself. You both have brought up how Redemption has called Elvis out for being selfish. One passage that comes to my mind is when Elvis thinks he sees Efua and wants to stop to help her. Redemption says that Elvis simply wants to be a hero and should be thinking about his cousin all the time (246). Redemption may have a more heightened sense of community obligation than Elvis.

    Another point just to complicate the discussion even further. As we are comparing Redemption and the King of the Beggars as role models, it is interesting to consider that the King of the Beggars was Redemption’s master in Redemption’s early years, making the King an authority figure over Redemption, maybe even at once a role model?

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