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.