Honing in on Violence and Killing

It is undeniably true that Graceland is absolutely chalk full of scenes of violence, physical abuse, sexual abuse, death, and war.  The scenes of sexual abuse are especially shocking, in addition to the description of the genocide and the bodies which seem to cover the land. Though these are of critical importance, I also noticed another instance of violence/cruelty/abuse throughout Book 1 of the novel.  Every few chapters there seems to be a situation in which one of Elvis’ friends is killing an animal for food.  This seems an innocent enough act, especially when this animal may be the only source of meat they have for weeks, but it is the way Abani goes about describing these scenes each time they crop up.

For example, on pages 180 and 181 Elvis is talking to Hezekiah about the upcoming Christmas holiday and what his family will eat for it.  The boys talk about the possibility of killing a goat and then a chicken.

“‘So what do you say about de goat?  Have you never killed on before?’” 

“‘No,’” Elvis said.”

“‘What of a chicken?  At least tell me you have killed a chicken.’”

 “‘One,’ Elvis said in a voice that betrayed the freshness of the memory.  Having caught the chicken, he had grasped it firmly by its wings and laid it on its side, trapping both its legs and wings under foot, al the while following the instructions Aunt Felicia was shouting at him.  Lifting its neck tenderly, he plucked a few feathers to reveal its pulsing pink neck.”

…”‘I don’t want to kill anything.’”

‘”Sometimes we don’t have a choice.’”

Each time Elvis has a discussion like this with one of his friends he finds the same thing–he does not feel comfortable killing animals for food.  He hates seeing the struggle, the slow death, the visible pain which the animal is going through.  Hezekiah claims that, “Sometimes we don’t have a choice,” and I think this statement says a lot.  This seems to be how much of the book is set up due to the environment of poverty, political unrest, and drug/alcohol abuse.  Poverty and severe political unrest, sadly, can lead people to do things that they normally would not do.  Acts that would typically be considered sinful and unheard of suddenly become acceptable because there is no other choice.  You do what you must do to live to the next day.  I think these scenes in specific help us to have a better understanding of Elvis.  Elvis has not only witnessed horrible physical and sexual abuse his whole life (in addition to death, murder, etc), but he has been victim to both.  I would imagine that Elvis feels hypocritical or just sheer guilt when faced with the task or idea of killing a living animal when the choice to NOT do so is plain and clear.  I think where most boys his age use violence and acting out as a means of growing into their manhood and the culture in which they live in, Elvis strays away because he has had his fill and knows that there are other ways.  I can imagine that harming a living entity would trigger the surfacing of memories of he himself being physically abused by his father, uncle, etc.  I think these scenes, interspersed throughout Graceland are there so that we as an audience may see how Elvis is different from the rest.  Violence has defined his life, therefore he chooses not to define himself by violence.

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