One of the major discussion points from last class was the relationship between Elvis and Sunday, so I thought it appropriate to continue that conversation in light of Christopher Ouma’s article “‘In the name of the son’: Fatherhood’s Critical Legitimacy, Sonhood and Masculinities in Chris Abani’s Graceland and The Virgin of Flames” particularly its relationship to other discussions about the Nigerian novel as national allegory. In the article, Ouma points to Chinua Achebe’s idea of “false fathers,” an idea of fatherhood as a construct rather than a genealogical fact. Pointing to the work of Valentin Mudimbe, Ouma calls immediate attention to the idea of father as metaphor, both for the characters in the works he discusses and for the idea of the postcolonial nation generally. For instance, he says, “the discourse of the father resigns the child to a position of marginality,” and further that such discourse “underlines the child’s increasing feeling that it lacks status within the material and symbolic world of its father. The child begins to question its hereditary identity, while seeking alternative identities that present an oppositional discourse which becomes the basis of a new legitimacy and power” (78).
First, I think this is entirely with keeping with the thematic presentation of Elvis’ relationship with Sunday in the novel. Elvis is constantly evoking his father’s situation as a justification for his own, and moreover, the impetus with which Elvis follows the path he follows is simultaneously a repudiation of his father’s lifestyle and an affirmation of his own. In this way, as Ouma suggests, Elvis is fighting against a paradigm in which “sons in Africa are born into a genealogical order: taking over the baton from their fathers, they are born ‘in the name of the father.’ However, the new realities in their postcolonial worlds provide for possibility and the invention of a new discourse “in the name of the son” (79). Thus, Elvis’ relationship with his father, as demonstrated by the novel, becomes a mirror in which we can see the manifestations of postcoloniality.
The father, in this articulation, is replaced by the fatherland, a false patriarch demanding the false assimilation of his colonized son. If we buy Ouma’s assertion that “’postcoloniality,’ a definitive condition of post-independence Africa, is itself a creation of colonial patriarchy,” then it becomes no large feat to suggest that Elvis’ relationship with his father embodies the synecdochal pairing of father-son to colonizer-colonized. Elvis represents this conflation on at least two fronts. On the one hand, he lives under the auspices of a traditional Nigerian culture (as evinced by the manhood ritual he partakes in). On the other, his father also represents the Colonial West (as evidenced by his education, for instance). Elvis, therefore, is forced to reject both of these articulations, and becomes the “new” Nigerian citizen; he is someone who rejects and assimilates his sense of self from both ends of the colonial spectrum, with the result of being wholly neither and yet concurrently representing both.