Category Archives: Group C

Jay-Z and Elvis

“The first time I heard our voices playing back on tape, I realized that a recording captures you, but plays back a distortion-a different voice from the one you hear in your own head even though I could recognize myself instantly. I saw it as an opening, a way to re-create myself and reimagine my world. After I recorded a rhyme it gave me an unbelievable rush to play it back, to hear that voice.” (5)

 

After reading this I could see how Elvis must receive the same kind of rush when he is doing his impersonations. For Elvis to do his impersonations he has to change his appearance, but if he were to still look in the mirror he would still recognize himself. The same way that Jay-z can recognize his own voice but knows that something is different. Jay-z gets a rush from trying to re-create himself and Elvis gets a rush from trying to recreate someone else. I think that for Elvis the only person he saw that could dance with the same passion that he had was Elvis. He didn’t have a buddy to practice moves with or to challenge his craft. He was always discouraged to dance, because he needed to find a real job. I wonder if Elvis was videotaped doing his routine if he would feel the same way> I wonder if he would be inspired to re-create himself or if he would feel discouraged and see what everyone else sees when he dances.

Sunday’s Bedroom

“He had only been inside his father’s bedroom a few times, and then only to clean, which was in itself an invariably bittersweet experience. Tins of smoked kippers, baked beans, corned beef, and exotic fruits all sat stacked, unused, unopened. Some, contoured into tortured shapes were well past their use-by dates. Bought for some special moment that never seemed to come, they were eventually thrown away. Shirts, still shrink-wrapped, mocked the holed one he wore. Vitals of holy water, collected from every gifted Catholic bishop or priest between home and Timbuktu, stood in a shaky pyramid in the corner. A sip, taken with a couple aspirin, worked miracles on headaches, his father swore. In the corners, ornamented tea services leaned against stacks of Reader’s Digests and newspapers.” (144)

This passage for me really showed me the relationship that Elvis had with his father. Throughout the book up to this point we see them have verbal exchanges that would not be characterized as being loving. We also have Elvis tell us that his father treated him poorly after his mother died. He even told Comfort that his father did not love him. But this scene really proved that to me. The narrator tells us that Elvis has only been inside his father’s bedroom a few times, and those few times were only to clean. I can’t imagine not going inside my parent’s bedroom and we live in the same house. I am inside my parent’s room all the time, having conversations, watching television, or a movie. I even get ready with my mom before we go out sometimes. So for a child to say that they have only been inside there father’s room a few times to me really shows the strain on their relationship, if it can even be called a relationship. From this passage it seems more like a servant and master than a father and son. He says that the experience of being in the room is bittersweet. This is probably because Elvis remembers when he used to go in his mother’s room at night and sleep with her when he was afraid. It also is probably hard to see all this spoiled food that is going to be thrown away, when they are struggling to survive. It is probably a slap in the face to see this food saved for a special occasion that has never come.

This passage also shows me more of Sunday’s personality. He is the last person that you would expect to be saving food for a special occasion. He seems more like the one to celebrate a drink at the bar than anything that has to do with his family. Also he is not the type of person you would expect to have holy water. I guess this is the irony showing in his name, that he would have holy water from priests and use to cure a headache and most likely a drunken headache. This was just eye-opening for me to really understand the relationship between Sunday and Elvis, and show Sunday’s personality.

Everyone is selfish

 

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.

Memory

“He picked it up gingerly, as though it would bite. Touching it brought back memories of his mother: how she would say her rosary every night before a statue of the Virgin of Fatima and then read a passage of the Bible before bed. Or maybe she hadn’t. It was getting difficult to separate the imagined from his real memories” (p.166)

“And you can’t know for sure dat what you think you saw dat time was Joseph raping his daugher. Maybe you were confused” (p.188)

The ambiguity and distortion of memory that we saw in Midnight’s Children is again brought up again in Graceland. In Midnight’s Children, Rushdie wrote: “Reality is a question of perspective; the further you get from the past, the more concrete and plausible it seems – but as you approach the present, it inevitably seems more and more incredible” (p.189). To refresh everyone’s memory, Rushdie compared reality in the present day to sitting so close to a movie screen that we do not see the whole picture. However, when looking back on a situation, we see the “big picture”. Abani, on the other hand, discusses how our memories of the past before more distorted as time goes on.

In Graceland, our memory can be influenced in different ways. In the first passage, Elvis’ recollection of his mother seems to be only of her admirable qualities. Because we only have Elvis’ account of his mother, we are in no position to make assumptions that he is lying. However, we also have to remember how memory can be affected. Elvis acknowledges the fact that his memory of his mother is not completely valid. It may be possible that he blocks out particular stories from his memory because he loved his mother so much that he only wanted to remember the best qualities about her. I do not know if this is a legitimate argument of how memory works, but I have found it to be true for my own memories – I always remember the best times of the past and I block out the negative.

When Sunday argues that Elvis’ memory may be distorted, he is either defending his brother, Joseph, or making a point about how witnesses to crimes often can not remember exactly what they saw. Perhaps Elvis’ vision of Joseph raping Efua is the truth, or perhaps he saw Efua being raped by another man and was later convinced by her that the rapist was in fact Joseph. There are often cases where the witness’ memories are inaccurate because they are influenced by other parties.

 

Sunday (By the Blue, Purple, Yellow, Red Water)

In Chris Abani’s book, Graceland, names are more than a thing to call a person. They are an identity. They are “selected with care by your family and given to you as a talisman”. The names of the characters are not only a description of who a person is (Elvis’ name, for example is no mistake, as he is an Elvis impersonator), but for many characters it describes their entire being. Throughout the novel, we are given a picture of Elvis’ father, Sunday. An abusive, drunken shell of a man, Sunday is often cruel to Elvis. He is rarely vulnerable, as he is at the end of Book One when he is talking to the ghost of Beatrice.

Leaning back in the chair, he laughed bitterly through his tears.

“Of course you don’t understand. You are a woman, how could you? Honor is a secondhand concept for you, earned through your husbands or sons. But for us… for us it is different,” he continued. “I had come too far to step down. People were looking at me; my honor was naked, and I had to clothe it.”

Sobs wracked his body and he fought to gain control. Meanwhile, the Temptations were “talkin’ bout my girl, my girl.”

Letting out this breath, he continued. “I know I lost. Dat is the consequence of war, Beatrice. Someone wins, anoder loses. But as long as de fight was with honor, both warriors can rest peacefully.”

Sunday’s name is of particular significance to me at this point.  He is at the end of his rope, the end of a long life, the end of his week. He has experienced love, loss, intrigue and happiness, but now he is simply worn down. He is lazy, as one normally is on Sunday, drunk, and fed up with the events of the past and the hopelessness of the future. He is a man who has simply reached the end, and is waiting to move on. In this sense, Sunday’s name is not so much of a talisman as it is a plain understanding of his life as we see it. He is nearing the end.

For reference of the article title: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mE0YUsQr5Xk

american dream

“She reached into her bag and pulled out a postcard. Elvis took it and stared at it for a long time. It had four panels on the front. In one, the word “Vegas” was spelled out in lights…The third panel featured an Elvis impersonator, while the fourth was a photo of the Graceland chapel. This is an omen, he thought. This is it.” (167).

In this scene, Felicia tells Elvis that she is going to Vegas and that he should go with. Elvis looks at the postcard and considers it an “omen.” An omen is a prophetic sign, and Elvis believes that it is a sign that he should go and make a name for himself as a dancer in the United States. Elvis even continues to tell Felecia that he does not need to go to school because he will be able to become famous as a dancer in the United States. This scene is ironic because it reminds me of the earlier scene that I discussed in an earlier blog post in which Elvis discusses statistics. Elvis talks about how the statistics are wrong about Lagos and how they talk about all of the millionaires but do not mention the poverty. The statistics are skewed, and therefore people go to Lagos searching for jobs and a life that they will not find. I think that the same is happening here, but Elvis is on the other side of the statistic. Rather than knowing the truth, he hears that in America, he can make it as a famous dancer, and therefore, when he sees the Elvis impersonator on the postcard, he wants to go there. In America, it is not easy to make it as a dancer either, and impersonators are not usually respected for their profession. Despite these facts, Elvis believes the opposite. This is because of the idea of the American dream. People believe that going to America changes lives because anything is possible, yet there is plenty of poverty in America as well. Elvis does not know this because he does not see those statistics, just as people do not see the statistics about Lagos. Rather, Elvis sees the shiny postcard with the Elvis impersonator and assumes that it is a glorified profession and that he will be successful there.

I think that the image of the chapel on the postcard if also ironic. The name of the chapel is “Graceland” which is the name of the book. The named Graceland seems like a happy name. It seems like a name for something that is innocent and pure, due to the word “Grace” However, in both instances, this is not the case. The book is far from happy and pure, same with Elvis’s life in Lagos. Additionally, the chapel in Vegas is probably not pure or innocent either. Vegas chapels are known to be the opposite of that, and therefore it is ironic that Elvis sees this as a pure prophetic sign. Prophecies can be good or evil, and I find that in this case, it can be an evil one because it is tempting Elvis to a life that is not what it appears to be.

Conned Into Confidence

“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?”

Rites of Passage

During our assigned reading for tomorrow’s class, it immediately became clear to me that Graceland, not unlike Midnight’s Children, is a novel about growing up. To learn a bit more about what it means to grow up in the context of this story, I took a closer look at the manhood ritual that is performed early on, in which Elvis is painted with traditional patterns, and is handed a bow and arrow, on the end of which a pathetic baby chicken is nearly dead…

The actual process of the ritual is extremely traditional. The men paint traditional markings onto the child, dress him in traditional clothes, and arm him with traditional weaponry. They claim that the goal of the ritual is for the child to kill an eagle. Yet, in reality, the ritual is much less awesome. The grown men prepare the ritual while passing around a bottle of whiskey, and joking about wanting more of it. The eagle in the ritual is replaced by a helpless baby chicken. To make the ritual even less impressive, Elvis himself did not even kill the bird. Within a couple of paragraphs, the ritual is over, and Elvis is one step closer to becoming a man in the eyes of his compatriots.

But where does his actual growing up occur? Clearly, it is not during this ritual. Throughout the ritual, Elvis is confused because he does not know what is going on. He is told to accept the shortcomings of the ritual (the chick rather than an eagle; the audience of young men), and then, quite suddenly, it ends. It is after the ritual — when Elvis joins his older cousins, Innocent and Godfrey, at the bar — that Elvis begins to understand what it is to be a man.

“Sitting on the counter in his grass skirt, drinking his Fanta and watching Godfrey and Innocent tease the girl behind the counter, Elvis felt like a man.”

At this point, Elvis clearly (he even says it) feels like a man. It is ironic, because Elvis does not have this feeling immediately after the ritual. It only comes to him while his relatives are flirting with a bartender in his presence.

This passage effectively introduces what I think will be an important theme in the novel: Elvis lives in a society that values tradition, yet, his surroundings seem to completely deviate from those values. Traditionally, Elvis is expected to hunt like a man; to face adversity with poise and composure. Yet somehow, his father is a drunk, and his adolescent relatives spend their evenings flirting at a bar. Elvis’ family suffers from delusion, which has them locked in a cycle of poverty. They think they maintain their traditional ways, and that that is enough for their children (particularly Elvis) to be healthy and happy.

The perforated sheet- history repeats in the family

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.

 

Swallow the World

“I no longer want to be anything except what who I am. Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine, I am anything that happens after I’ve gone which would not have happened if I had not come. Nor am I particularly exceptional in this matter; each “I”, every one of the now-six-hundred-million plus of us, contains a similar multitude. I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you’ll have to swallow a world”. (441).

This statement I feel encompasses aspects magical realism. Although it’s been discussed multiple times, a basic definition of magical realism is “where magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment”. I see magical realism in this statement because it exaggerates the intensity of how dependent our lives are upon everyone and everything that came before us, I immediately a giant web of all the people in the world, mapping connections between each individual.

Many people agree that every action in our lives can have a consequence or an effect even on the most distant people and parts of the world. However, this statement is extreme. By saying “I am the sum total . . . of everything done-to-me”, Saleem is suggesting that without the rest of the world, he would not exist. On the other hand, he says “I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you’ll have to swallow a world”. This suggests that without his presence, the world would not be the same. So, an individuals existence is dependent on the rest of the world while the rest of the world is dependent on that individual. (This relationship makes me think of the childish question “What came first, the chicken or the egg?”).

As a Midnight’s Children, Saleem’s life is parallel to the occurrences in India. However, Saleem’s statement is not only true for the people born at the same time as him, but for every individual – regardless of their powers. This statement also exemplifies Saleem’s narrative – he jumps from story to story in attempt to tell every necessary detail needed to understand him and “swallow the world”