In Chapter 23 of Chris Abani’s Graceland, Redemption calls Elvis ‘selfish.’ While this is true to an extent, Elvis does not acknowledge that basically the entire population of Lagos is also selfish.
Redemption first accused Elvis of selfishness when Elvis mentioned that he would only save a woman if he knew that she was his cousin Efua. “Until you see somebody dat you think is her, you never even talk of finding her. You never even think it. Now you say you want to help. Na lie. You dey want be hero, de savior of your cousin. Oh yes, I know your type. I am your type. If you cant save yourself, den save others, abi? Dat way you can pretend to be good person.” (246). This is a very good point because it is true that only wanting to save his cousin could be considered selfish because he is ignoring others who are not directly related to his own happiness. However, there are other times when Elvis has sympathy for strangers. While a suspected thief named Jeremiah is about to be publically murdered, Elvis cannot turn a blind eye. “Why doesn’t anybody help?” (226). There are several other examples in the story of his sense of charity, such as taking the girl Blessing under his wing, and taking pity on the organ transplant children.
But the people of Lagos are acting in their own self-interests. Abani describes a situation where a child accidentally electrocutes himself while fetching a bucket of water from the tap. “Elvis watched the boy’s body float away in the deluge, while another took his place and took the full bucket of water to whatever destination would pay for it” (314). It seems like this next child automatically jumps on the opportunity presented by the death of the first child. Many of the citizens seem to have similar ‘entrepreneurship’ tendencies. They are following their own self interests to get ahead in this corrupt society.
The perforated sheet is used as a symbol throughout Midnight’s Children. Along with acting as a symbol, it describes how when lessons are not learned, history repeats itself within a family. Initially, Aadam Aziz meets his wife, Naseem, through the perforated sheet. The sheet was meant to protect her honor as he examined her ailing body parts. Aadam ended up falling in love with Naseem’s individual body parts because that’s all that he was able to see and appreciate at a given time. “Glued together by his imagination, she accompanied him on all his rounds, she moved into the front room of his mind, so the waking and sleeping he could feel in his fingertips the softness of her ticklish skin or the perfect tiny wrists or the beauty of the ankles; he could smell her scent of lavender and chabeli; he could hear her voice and her helpless laughter of a little girl; but she was headless, because he had never seen her face.” (22). This infatuation that developed did not make him truly love the whole being; only the individual parts. As a result, the couple’s love is never stable and complete. Not learning from her parents’ own mistakes, Amina attempts to fall in love with her husband by focusing on his individual body parts and characteristics. “Each day she selected one fragment of Ahmed Sinai, and concentrated her entire being upon it until it became wholly familiar until she felt fondness rising up within her and becoming affection and, finally, love.” (73). This also failed because Amina and Ahmed lacked the complete love that they needed to have.
“I will not attempt to play tonight the part that Paris played on another occasion. I will not attempt to choose between them. The task would be an individuous one and one beyond my poor powers. For when I view them in turn, whether it be our chief hostess herself, whose good heart, whose too good heart, has become a byword with all who know her; or her sister, who seems to be gifted with perennial youth and whose singing must have been a surprise and a revelation to us all tonight; or, last but not least, when I consider our youngest hostess, talented, cheerful, hardworking and the best of nieces, I confess, Ladies and Gentlemen, that I do not know to which of them I should award the prize” (40).
The passage demonstrates the way in which Gabriel tends to take a selfless or martyr-like attitude. Gabriel is shown to be attempting to stay as non-controversial as possible in the eyes of others. By refusing to choose a favorite of the women, it is proving that he wants to stay on everyone’s best sides.
Gabriel also tends to want to display that he puts the interests of others before his own. “Gabriel began to carve second helpings as soon as he had finished the first round without serving himself. Everyone protested loudly, so that he compromised by taking a long draught of stout, for he had found the carving hard work.” (31). However, when he wanted to make love to his wife, he was had very greedy selfish thoughts, but he resisted because it was working against his selfless image.
Overall, Gabriel is a self-conscious man. He wants to make others happy, and beats himself up when he says the wrong thing. For example, he was angry at himself for giving unsolicited hints about Lilly getting married. Gabriel’s toast to the three women describes Gabriel’s goal to make everyone happy.