“But beware, this is not as easy as it seems. It also defines being.”
“Confidence, who also lived in the tenement, was arguing heatedly with Sunday. Confidence kept his distance from Jagua and his snake. He couldn’t stand either. He worked hard at what he did, conning people. It was, he said, his life’s work, something he had been named to do. He thought Jagua was a lazy ne’er-do-well who sponged off people’s good graces and fear of damnation. Jagua was a practicing druid and held healings and mystic consultations for people daily from his room at the end of the compound. It wasn’t much of a living, but being the landlord’s brother, he had no rent to pay–something everyone suspected was really at the bottom of Confidence’s hatred. Elvis had asked him about it once and Confidence has replied: ‘Is not dat. I just hate people who can’t make an honest living.’” (p. 252)
“Elvis sat back and watched the game unfold. If he hadn’t grown up in this culture, he might have thought it strange to have walked in on the heated debate…and then to see the same people who had been protesting only moments before begin a game of checkers while they waited for something to happen…” (p. 254)
Confidence is one of the characters we find in Graceland that seems to actually fit the characteristics his namesake gives him; however, the confidence of Confidence is not admirable as much as it is repulsive and self-absorbed. From the very beginning, we see that Confidence is specifically aware of what he is doing and what is around him and nothing else. He does not care about Sunday despite arguing with him, and for ironic personal reasons, he does not care about Jagua and his snake either. I think this gives the view of Confidence conning himself into some less-than-perfect confidence; he says it himself. He works hard to maintain his self-righteous persona, and, on top of that, he feels entitled to this persona it was something “he had been named to do.”
While conning appears to be more detrimental to society than Jagua’s “healings and mystic consultations,” Confidence sees Jagua as a leech on society. Ironically, we could say the same about Confidence, too. It is funny to see how Confidence is confident that conning people on the streets of Lagos is making an honest living, and maybe Abani is using this to show how people in Lagos take pride in their professions, however folly or immoral they might be. Succeeding in Lagos is not about earning an honest, respectable living; it is about being good at what you are “named” to do.
This concept of names being a sort of predestination is interesting to me. It made me think about the possibility of Elvis being trapped within his namesake. Does he have to imitate a world-famous rock star just because his name is Elvis? Is he not free to do something else instead of “[waiting] for something to happen?” This type of back and forth mindset really reflects aspirations of people in Lagos. People become passionate and serious about what they believe in or do periodically, but essentially, everyone just goes back to playing the “game of checkers.”
One question to ponder is how does Elvis see his aspirations. Is it a “game?” Is it predestined? Is it unavoidable, or is it something that he actually has intentionality in doing? We get a sense on page 261 that Elvis misses the performer side of himself, but at some point he asks and we ask, “Is he better of without this identity?”