Deacon King Kong

by

James McBride

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Deacon King Kong: Chapter 11: Pokeweed Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Not far from the train station where Sister Gee and Soup are talking to Earl, sits Elefante’s house. Elefante and his mother are there discussing pokeweed, a plant that grows around the harbor. Elefante thinks the plant might be poisonous, but his mother assures him that it is not—rather, it is “good for the blood.” At the moment, Mrs. Elefante is slicing up some pokeweed, which she apparently plans to eat. Elefante tells his mother to go to a doctor and get some blood thinners instead, but she dismisses this idea as a waste of money.
Mrs. Elefante’s suggestion that pokeweed can help her heart is reminiscent of the role that flowers play in the novel; that is, the heart is the organ most associated with love. and flowers act as a symbol of love throughout the text. Elefante’s conversations with his mother are mundane, and it is no wonder that he wants to build a life of his own. He loves his mother, but he wants a wife.
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Elefante tells his mother that he won’t be able to help her with her plants today. Mrs. Elefante tells her son that she does not need his help anyway because a deacon from the Five Ends Church (Sportcoat) is coming soon to take care of her garden. Elefante vaguely knows who she is talking about. He tells her to keep the man out of the house, explaining that he drinks too much. This annoys Mrs. Elefante, who tells her son that the deacon knows more about plants than anyone else in the entire Cause.
Here, the link between Sportcoat and the Elefantes is revealed, although its significance is still a mystery. Though he barely knows him, even Elefante knows that Sportcoat drinks too much. While this is true, Mrs. Elefante, like the members of the Five Ends Church, is willing to look past this flaw to embrace Sportcoat’s good qualities.
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Ultimately, Elefante drops the subject and instead thinks to himself about race relations in his neighborhood. Overall, he likes having African American neighbors. They don’t disrupt his business, and they are kind. He doesn’t understand the hate that many of the other racial groups in the city throw their way. He thinks that more people should set aside their prejudices and learn to get along with one another.
Elefante is relatively tolerant of other races compared to other characters in the book. This mindset dictates how he runs his business and contributes to why he does not get involved in the drug trade.
Themes
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After the conversation with his mother, Elefante leaves for a meeting with the Governor to learn more about the mysterious artifact that his father supposedly possessed before his death. Elefante thinks that it is unlikely that the artifact still exists, but he still decides to pay the old man the courtesy of another meeting. Plus, after talking to his mother and placing some calls with his father’s former contacts, he knows that the Governor’s story is at least partially true.
Even though Elefante thinks it is unlikely that the artifact exists, he is obviously interested in it. After all, he seems to have spent a considerable amount of time trying to locate it.
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And yet, previously, when Elefante searched all of his storage units, he found nothing. Elefante is angry with himself for not remembering more about what his father said regarding the Governor. Elefante’s father was a quiet man and when he spoke, it was only to say something important. As such, Elefante feels as though he should know more about the Governor and his situation, but he doesn’t.
Elefante finds himself wishing that he paid more attention to his father; had he done so, he would be a wealthy man right now. Elefante is now beginning to realize just how little he knew about his father and the people he worked with.
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On his way to his car, Elefante thinks about retirement. He longs to be away from his smuggling business and would much rather relax in paradise. However, he recognizes this desire as a pipe dream. Although retirement is a possibility, if he left New York City, there would be no one around to take care of his mother. As such, Elefante must remain in his current position—a lonely middle-aged man in charge of a local smuggling ring.
Although Elefante lives a life of crime, it is not something he enjoys. As he continues to age, he longs for a more traditional life, far away from the city where he was raised. However, he knows he has other responsibilities, especially in regard to his mother, that make his desires impossible. This is presumably depressing to him.
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Before Elefante can get in his car, Joe Peck pulls up to Elefante’s house in an expensive car and asks him for a favor. He wants Elefante to help him with a one-time deal to smuggle some heroin into the Cause via the docks. Immediately, Elefante rejects the offer. In response, Peck grows angry with Elefante, and his temples bulge. Elefante immediately picks up on Peck’s anger. Peck has always had a temper—it’s one of the many reasons that Elefante does not like or respect him.
Elefante dislike Peck because Peck lacks the tact and ethical standard that Elefante holds himself to. Peck acts like an entitled child who gets upset as soon as he doesn’t get what he wants. Unlike Elefante, Peck has no problem with shipping in the drugs that are ravaging the Cause community. Peck is one of the few characters for which the novel has no sympathy.
Themes
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Peck begins talking about the recent events in the Cause. He is mad about Deems’s shooting because it’s creating problems for his business. Deems is one of his best men, and Peck is angry at the “old man” who shot him. Peck is convinced that the old man is hiding from him and his men. He also tells Elefante that he’s sent a man after the shooter to get revenge. None of this information is important to Elefante, who tells Peck to get on with his point. Peck tries to convince Elefante that smuggling the heroin is in his best interest. Furthermore, Peck promises Elefante a lot of money. The money is enticing to Elefante, and, for a moment, he considers Peck’s offer.
Notably, Peck doesn’t care about Deems; he cares only about his business. He also has no idea what is actually going on in the Cause. Peck thinks that Sportcoat is hiding from him, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Meanwhile, the money Peck offers Elefante is enticing to him because of his wish to retire and escape New York City.
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Ultimately, Elefante turns Peck down. Elefante has never trafficked drugs before, in keeping with the moral standards of his father. The most harmful substance Elefante is willing to smuggle is cigarettes, and he doesn't plan to change that, even for someone like Peck who can get him a lot of money. Elefante sees what heroin is doing to his community and those that surround him and wants no part of it. Additionally, he does not like or respect Joe Peck enough to carry out such a job for him. Peck is angry when Elefante turns down the job and leaves upset. As Elefante gets in his car, he thinks about how he wants out of his life of crime. He wonders whether it is possible for him to retire and live out the rest of his days with a woman who loves him.
Again, Elefante proves himself to be an admirable criminal; he does not put his own wants and desires over those of the Cause community. Meanwhile, Peck continues to act like a petulant child who is upset that Elefante is not doing what he asks. Peck does not understand Elefante. He does not see the residents of the Cause as people; they are only things from which he can extract money. 
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