“Near tears he watched Beatrice retreat into the house. He looked around for Oye, but she was nowhere to be found. Instead he saw his teenage cousins, Innocent and Godfrey, and a gaggle of other boys ranging from ten to nineteen. This group of young men from the neighboring hamlets had come to welcome Elvis on his first step to manhood as dictated by tradition, and as part of the ritual they would form a retinue of singers. [...] Sunday noticed Elvis’s attention straying and realized that he was looking for his mother and grandmother.
‘It is time to cut your apron strings,” he said to Elvis. “Dis about being a man. No women allowed.’” (18)
This passage from chapter two brings up many of the issues at play in the story as well as topics we have been discussing in class. Primarily, this scene further established Elvis’ relationship with his father. His father is harsh with him even though he is only five years old. His father is trying to force him to sever his dependence on his mother but in later years he will be forced to live without his mother completely. It was brought up early in the novel that his mother died when he was young and he still carries her journal with him. Chapter two is prefaced with a recipe like he would find in his mother’s journal. This enforces his connection to his mother as though the story of his life and her journal are comparable works.
This passage also highlights some of the characteristics of their culture. The ritual that requires the killing of a small animal exemplifies their perception of the importance of masculinity. Also, women are excluded from this occasion showing that there is a clear delineation between the sexes, similar to what we have seen in Persepolis.
This passage also mentions his cousin Innocent. His cousin fought in a war and now screams through the night. This story is told in the same chapter where Elvis is forced to grow up and lose his childhood innocence through the killing of an animal. When Innocent was forced to go to war, he had to kill people, citizens of his own nation, and as a result, is scarred and has lost his innocence.
“If you look at de package, you will see dat de expiry date is December eighty-three. Dis is a new drug from de white people’s labs and plenty research done get into it. It is manufacture in Yugoslavia. In dat country dey call it narcotics and it is costing plenty money.” (pg. 9)
This quote, as well as many others of its kind throughout the first ten chapters, really stuck out to me as telling of what the author’s main purpose is with this novel. Not until now in the semester have we reached a novel that puts such a strong emphasis on dialect.
It was slightly present in The Dubliners, and the colloquialism in the British works were certainly different from what we use now, but Graceland gives us the first taste a a strong focus on dialect as indication of character development or culture exposure. Not only does the dialect say something about each character who uses it (i.e. their lack of education or full immersion into the culture), but it also reminds the reader of the culture about which we are reading. Oftentimes in this class I have gotten so lost in the plot and characters that I forget that we are in a world literature course that focuses on the different varieties of cities. This novel does not allow that, however, as we are constantly reminded of the circumstances under which this storyline takes place simply based on the dialect the author, and consequently the characters, use.
As of right now, I am quite fond of this change, as it achieves a level of interest from me that the other novels were unable to obtain. However, I can see myself getting annoyed at the disruptions later on in the novel as the use of dialectic language becomes tedious, as it has the potential to retract from the effect of the meaning behind these very important words. We will see as time passes whether or not this authorial decision will in fact prove to be a good choice!
“Elvis couldn’t take it any more and got off at the Bar Beach stop. It was a nice day, not too hot, with a nice breeze coming off the ocean, and he thought he might make some money off white expatriates and the odd tourist tanning on the beach. They were always surprised and pleased to see and Elvis impersonate here…” Pg. 10.
Hopefully I wasn’t the only one who didn’t catch on to Elvis in the story to actually be an impersonator of the “real” Elvis until this point. I figured like other countries, that sometimes people take on American names that tend to me non-typical to us. Earlier, when his father, Sunday is giving him a hard time, I caught that Elvis liked to dance, but I didn’t make the connection to the name. I find it interesting that there would be a market for this kind of thing in Lagos, but after some research I found that Lagos is a very much developed city, much like Johannesburg in South Africa.
Soon after that passage, when Elvis is trying to make some money from some tourists or expatriates, he is not respected for what he is doing.
“What d’ya think he’s doing?” said one very large man.
“I think he’s doing an Elvis impersonation,”
When asked what he wants, Elvis says “Money.” and when he eventually gets very little from them, he asks if he has dollars and he is shooed away. This is a great example of how hard it is for many in Lagos to make a small amount of money. I wonder if the names other characters have that are unique, such as Sunday, and Innocent have something deeper to do with them that we will learn later on in the book.
“It built up slowly, one leg sort of snapping at the knee, then the pelvic thrust, the arm dangling at his side becoming animated, forefinger and thumb snapping out the time. With a stumble, because the wed sand, until he adjusted to it, sucked at his feet, he launched into the rest of his routine. it was spell binding watching him hover over the sand, movements as fluid as a wave, and it was some time before any of the foreigners moved or spoke.”
It is 1983 in Lagos and Elvis is skipping school to impersonate Elvis to tourist groups at the Molue stops. He sings “Hound Dog” and dances like Elvis, trying to attract a crowd with his Elvis routine. The tourists are curious and watching him perform, but when Elvis waits and asks for a tip, they are unwilling to give him any money. A lady offers chocolate that her son snatches away claiming it is his. Elvis is able to get some money, but barely enough to buy a good meal. In this scene, Elvis is able to dance, something that he wants to pursue as a career. However, it is almost an unrealistic career. Christ Abani sets the scene and shows the poverty and terrible conditions in Lagos. Elvis, about fourteen, is already street performing trying to earn some money for food. The foreigners lack of care for Elvis’s impersonation and routine exemplifies the hardship Elvis goes through and how invisible he is to others.
Abani also uses names as an important part of the novel. Many of the characters’ names describe the opposite of who they really are. Elvis impersonates Elvis, the famous singer, but he is nothing like the actual singer. Elvis doesn’t sing and only knows how to dance a little. Elvis’s stepmother is name Comfort, but she is anything but Comfort. She doesn’t give Elvis or any of her own kids food. Elvis’s father is named Sunday. Generally Sunday is thought as a day to go to church, a fresh start to the week. However, Sunday, Elvis’s father, is a drunk and abusive towards Elvis.
“Elvis had read a newspaper editorial that stated, rather proudly, that Nigeria had a higher percentage of millionaires- in dollars, not local currency-than nearly any other country in the world, and most of them lived and conducted their business in Lagos. The editorial failed to mention that their wealth had been made over the years with the help of crooked politicians, criminal soldiers, bent contractors, and greedy oil-company executives. Or that Nigeria also had a higher percentage of poor people than nearly any other country in the world. What was it his father has said about statistics?
‘If you have it, flaunt it; if you don’t, flaunt statistics.’” (p.8)
In the beginning section of the novel, Abani gives us background knowledge about Lagos, Nigeria in this time period. Even this early in the novel, we see that Elvis is a young man of next to no means and impersonates Elvis on the street to earn money. By using the language, “failed to mention” in the context above describing the city, we get the idea that the city center of Lagos portrays to the rest of the world a façade of great wealth. Abani mentions in an earlier section that only one third of the city is so glamorous as the description that was in the editorial that Elvis read. Abani takes this early opportunity to inform us that Lagos is not what it may seem to many from the outside looking in. His use of the words, “greedy, criminal and crooked” reinforce the idea that the city of Lagos has built the success it grasps onto by means of corrupt measures. By outlining this early he gives us insight into the theme of things not being what they may seem.
“Statistics” are powerful measures of success and power that many go by to determine a plethora of things. Statistics, however, can also be misleading and do not tell the entire story. Elvis’ father infers that he thinks that statistics are a tool to be used to “flaunt” something if a place is not self explanatorily good or up to par. It is also interesting to note that although Elvis’ father is a man that is not at all a likeable character, he is noted for saying something so profound.
Elvis mentions working and acquiring enough capital to go to America and live the dream. I wonder if the idea he has about America is as a place of all things positive is just another example of the theme of things not always being what they seem.
“And do, bringing her gift of assiduity to bear, she began to train herself to love him. To do this she divided him, mentally, into every single one of his component parts, physical as well as behavioral, compartmentalizing him into lips and verbal tics and prejudices and likes…in short, she fell under the spell of the perforated sheet of her own parents, because she resolved to fall in love with her husband bit by bit” (73)
Amina begins to fall in love with Ahmed just like how her parents fell in love. Although there isn’t a physical sheet with a whole there, Amina imagines one and falls in love with Ahmed in parts. each day, she would pick a part to concentrate on until she loved it and them move on to another part. As each day passed, Ahmed began to transform into Nadir, the man Amina loved. She teaches herself to love Ahmed the way she loved Nadir, and eventually Ahmed transforms bit by bit into Nadir-look alike. Rushdie uses the part of the whole effect again here. When Aadam and Naseem fell in love with parts of each other, they didn’t love each other as a whole. They became distant and disagreed on numerous things, especially religious education. Now, with Amina following in her parents footsteps, it is a foreshadowing of the potential disagreements and hardships to come for the couple. By just falling in love with a part of the Ahmed, Amina is not taking into account of all the parts she doesn’t like, creating an illusion of love for Ahmed.
The part of a whole situation can also be related to India leading up to their independence. Rushdie uses a lot of historical patterns throughout the novel. Relating to Amina and how she only focuses to love parts of Ahmed and does not look at the whole, People also divide India into parts. The Muslim League in India is calling for a Muslim nation separate from India. The religious tensions between Muslims and Hindus causes people to only focus on parts of India, where to divide and what places has the majority of the Hindu or Muslim population. People only focus on the good parts of partitioning India rather than seeing the good in not partitioning it. However, it might show the down side of not partitioning India, where like Aadam and Naseem’s marriage, the whole was worse than the parts.
“Snakes can lead to triumph, just as ladders can be descended: my grandfather, knowing I would die anyway, administered the cobra poison. The family stood and watched while the poison spread through the child’s body… and six hours later, my temperature had returned to normal. After that, my growth-rate lost its phenomenal aspects; but something was given in exchange for what was lost; life, and an early awareness of the ambiguity of snakes” (169).
This event is a significant moment in Saleem’s life in two major ways. The first being that had the doctor not given him the poison, he would not have survived. Secondly, this event gives Saleem a unique perspective on good and bad and, in conjunction with his fascination with Snakes and Ladders, chance.
The game is based purely on chance and not at all on skill. Because ladders lead a player closer to victory and snakes take them farther away, it could be looked at simply as a game of good and bad with the ladders representing good and snakes representing bad. His life experience showed him that these things usually happen in pairs and that good and bad often balance out. After hearing of the assassination of Gandhi, his family lived in fear of an outbreak of conflict, the snake. “But for every snake there is a ladder,” and they discover that the assassin was not Muslim.
However, Saleem’s experience with the snake venom showed him that snakes can be a savior. Even though snakes are traditionally a sign of evil, he owes his life to their existence. Without snakes, there would be no venom, and without venom there would have been no cure for his typhoid. So in this situation, the snake is ironically the ladder. But as in all situations, there is also a metaphorical “snake” which in this case is the loss of his rapid growth-rate.
“I told you the truth,” I say yet again, “Memory’s truth, because memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent versions of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else’s version more than his own.” (pg 242)
This is a part when Saleem decides to stop telling his story and reinforce to Padma that his being accurate in his descriptions of history and his past. Throughout the book until now, we hear Saleem tell these extravagant stories based on experiences he has had, but at the same time, I find myself constantly questioning what he is talking about and wondering if the history facts he communicates are accurate.
In this chapter, “At the Pioneer Cafe,” Saleem experiences a fever-induced dream about a person called “The Widow.” The role of this person is to destroy children by tearing them in half. After speaking about the dream is when he decides he needs to tell Padma that he is speaking the truth, but “memory’s truth.” What I believe he is trying to convey is that he is telling his stories based on his memory, but that memory has changed because of other actions throughout his life since then. As crazy as the stories he tells are, he believes them to be true more than anyone else can. But how can anyone else believe the things he says?
“Three years of words poured out of her (but he body, stretched by the exigencies of storing them, did not diminish). My grandfather stood very still by the Telefunken as the storm broke over him. Whose idea had it been? Whose crazy fool scheme, whatsitsname, to let this coward who wasn’t even a man into the house?… Who had put his daughter into that scoundrel’s whatsitsname, yes, the white-haired weakling who had permitted this iniquitous marriage” (p. 64)?
It is at this point in the book where the reader sees Saleem reveals what is behind the facade of Aziz and Naseem’s marriage. After three years of silence, Naseem breaks it after finding out that after two years of marriage, her daughter remains a virgin. In this passage, Naseem shows intense emotion to her husband by calling him a, “fool.” Naseem is expressing her disproval in Aziz’s actions by allowing Nadir Khan to live secretly in their home and allow his own daughter to marry such a man. Saleem describes this moment as a, “storm.” The connotation of a storm could be something this is impending and when the right moment comes, chaos ensues. Perhaps starting off slowly and gradually, but then building faster and more intense waves of emotion.
A connection is made between the storm that Naseem pours on her husband and the atomic bomb that America drops on Japan on this very day. Parallels can be drawn from this event happening to the storm that is said to break over them when Naseem speaks for the first time. The atomic bomb being dropped in Japan was America’s response to the Japanese bombing pearl harbor; perhaps Naseem’s explosion was from her husband’s acts of secrecy and her thoughts that her husband was a bad father? The “iniquitous marriage” that Mumtaz and Nadir had is sinful and unjust as seen by Naseem; many people view American’s in a negative light for dropping the atomic bomb on Japan as well.
The connections that we are able to make between themes in the book and the world events are significant and help us to better understand the intention of Saleem’s story telling and add context to the information he shares with us.
“All games have morals; and the game of Snakes and Ladders captures, as no other activity can hope to do, the eternal truth that for every ladder you climb, a snake is waiting just around the corner; and for every snake, a ladder will compensate.” (160)
I feel as though this quote really encapsulates this story up to this point. It’s almost like the concept that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” The fate of these characters seems to be so rocky throughout the story, never settling on one outcome—positive or negative. This observation, coming to the conclusion that there is no concrete end as good or bad, reflects on the character’s idea of life. This epiphany comes at a crucial time in the story, as he is developing his ideology and truly delving for the first time into how he views existence. For example, there appears a negative in that Aadam and Reverend Mother have to come live with them, but a positive when Saleem finds that he is the cause of his mother’s good fortune at the racetrack. Though a lot of positive occurrences happen throughout this novel, there are also just as many negative counterparts.
Additionally, this board game says a lot about the snake imagery used in this novel, possibly defying the blatant opposition between good and evil. They move into the house of a man who studies snakes, thus introducing this symbol into the story. In the Bible, for example, a snake tempts Eve to defy God and eat an apple from against his wishes. Traditionally, good and evil, like Snakes and Ladders, are seen as opposing and separate forces. In reality, however, these so-called obvious classifications become confused, and the distinction between them becomes ambiguous as shown throughout this novel. The idea that Dr. Schaapsteker could save Saleem’s life with snake poison represents the concept that the line separating good and evil is never as clear as one might initially think.
Perhaps there are two meanings to this imagery in that yes, we find the positives and negatives in life, but also in that they might not be as separate as we initially thought. Might this confusion reflect on the story as well? Why does he put such a strong emphasis on snakes? Conceivably this ambiguity is on purpose in order to further emphasize the opposing yet compatible agents concept.