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.