Violence on the Street

Elvis gives the impression that parts of Lagos are unsafe, sometimes merely hinting at, other times out right describing, public and private violence. In the beginning of the story, he discusses the set up of the road and bridges in the city, focusing on the people’s ignorant use of them. The citizens do not use the bridges; rather, “pedestrians dodged between the speeding vehicles” (Abani 56). As a result, Elvis tells us that a minimum of ten people die crossing the street every day. He depicts it as a violent, gruesome way to die.

Elvis leaves little to the imagination when describes the bus running over yet another person that had been originally hit by the car in front of it; Elvis tells us, “subsequent cars [finish] the job” of killing the pedestrians (Abani 56). The image of scattered dead bodies in the road, mutilated by cars, buses, and trucks, fills a reader’s mind, and it brings a much more somber tone to the story. The idea of a violent, painful, realistic death grounds the novel, forcing readers to reflect with Elvis on both the importance and brevity of life. In Elvis’s own words, “Why do we gamble with our lives? … why not even the odds [between life and death] a little?” (Abani 57).

At this point, Abani is making a much more important statement about life in the city, saying that no part of life is certain for anyone. A passenger on the bus describes it perfectly, saying that “life in Lagos is a gamble, crossing or no crossing” (Abani 57). It is a harsh and somewhat depressing reality, but it is one that people in Lagos, aside from Elvis, have no trouble accepting. Elvis pinpoints exactly that, the blind acceptance of life, as “the trouble with this country” (Abani 58). But, despite the violent deaths and ignorant people, Elvis has one positive (albeit sarcastic) comment about the situation: “At least they take away the bodies” (Abani 57).

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One Comment on “Violence on the Street”

  1. averyg says:

    This grim outlook seems to be shared by many of the book’s characters. On page 282, George tells Elvis that “life is like an itch. You scratch and scratch, until you chaff your skin to de bone. But you still itch.” The idea that life is, as George suggests, unfulfilling by default may be the cause of its lack of meaning to most people in the book. To throw it away is not such a sacrifice if it is not a thing of beauty to begin with.
    Additionally, the idea that life is a gamble is reflected in the scene with Jeremiah, Schrödinger’s Thief. The “comically biblical yet purely animal” (Abani, 225) way with which the crowd passes judgment and takes the life of a possibly (and, in this case, probably) innocent man shows that the perpetuation of life in Lagos seems to be little more than a series of lucky breaks.


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