The Construction of Masculinity of the Criminal Other in Michelle Asantewa's Elijah


The novel, Elijah, by Michelle Yaa Asantewa is a literary examination of the additional struggles that Afro-Guyanese migrants like Eli Lovelace face when they are coming of age in a postmodernist multicultural metropolis. The novel does not fully confirm to the conventions of a bildungsroman since we do not follow his growth over a period of years. However, readers are able to psychologically penetrate the mind of Eli Lovelace when he experiences a major volta in his life during which he leaves the gang life behind him.

Moreover, the novel candidly focuses on the criminal landscape of the city of London, a melting pot of cultures and subcultures. Therefore, Elijah is not a run-of-the-mill postcolonial work since the protagonist is doubly othered; the criminal and racial other. Consequently, this novel has the dimensions of a detective novel in which readers have to deduce who was the culprit that committed the murder that establishes the exposition of the novel. Furthermore, an approach similar to that used by Alshiban in her essay, “Exploring Criminology in Literary Texts: Robert Browning – an Example” will be applied since this essay also seeks to expose the intimate connection between literature and criminology (Alshiban 57).

Firstly, Elijah is characterized as the ‘black sheep’ or outcast of the family when through free indirect discourse Asantewa allows Eli to confess that, “[h]e was always wrong” but “[c]ollectively they (his family) were always right; their voices always eagerly joined in conviction of his guilt” (27). This unhomed feeling is one of the factors that cause youths to rely more on peer groups. In Eli’s case, it was a street gang. Lindsey and Beach posit that “[t]he family provides the essential economic and emotional support to its members during all the events and inevitable crises” (396). Clearly, Eli Lovelace does not find the affection that he craves within his familial unit. As a matter of fact, the manner in which Eli claims to be treated by his family reveals that it is “preserving existing inequality and power relations in the broader society” (Lindsey and Beach 399). This statement is held true when Eli’s mother, Louisa, issues a warning to him about staying out at night by asking him if he wants to return to “Young Offenders” (30). Here Eli is labelled and he is also othered by his delinquent or deviant reputation which to some extent coerces him to continue being one of the “Cretch Crew” members (91). It is also because of his association with the before mentioned gang that he is paid a visit by PC Holmes and Detective Jackson in relation to the murder of the teenage boy at Bondly Estate. From the perspective of law enforcement officers, his label as a young offender also qualifies him as a potential offender or accomplice in any crimes related to the gang. In other words, Eli is being constructed as the offender, perpetrator and “victimological other” (Walklate 19).

Lindsey and Beach further state that adolescents are more susceptible to becoming very loyal to peer groups since “they can be themselves only when with their friends; they do not have to show deference to adults and can use the peer group to mock adult authority” (138). From a sociological perspective, it is logical that Eli would be drawn to the gang since he is surrounded by other persons his age who like him had a “value system at odds with mainstream culture” (Scott 179). This disparity between value systems is an inevitability owing to the fact that he belongs to the racial minority and is also living in another man’s land.

Furthermore, Eli Lovelace also finds that he and his fellow gangsters have