Deacon King Kong

by

James McBride

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Deacon King Kong can help.

Deacon King Kong: Chapter 5: The Governor Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Not long after Sportcoat shoots Deems, a police officer arrives at Thomas Elefante’s house to tell him about the shooting in the Cause. The house belongs to Elefante’s mother, although Elefante lives there with her. Elefante is a large and handsome 40-year-old man with a troubled past. Elefante’s father was in jail for most of his life, during which time his mother ran the family business—a smuggling operation at the nearby docks. Although he is single, Elefante hopes that one day soon he will meet a woman who will be his wife. Despite his line of work, he still hopes that he can eventually be a family man.
Police corruption was especially common in the decades when New York was run by mobs. It is presumably one of the reasons why Black people did not trust the police. Elefante is an interesting mobster; although he is a criminal, one of the first things the reader learns about him is that his true desire is to be a family man. Like many characters in the novel, Elefante was born into a life that directly shaped who he became; his father was a criminal, and Elefante took over the family business.
Themes
Parental Figures and Masculinity  Theme Icon
However, in the moment, all Elefante feels is annoyance. He does not like the young officer’s lack of tact and doesn’t find the information useful. The shooting doesn’t matter to Elefante because it had nothing to do with him—he considers it Joe Peck’s problem. Nonetheless, he pays the police officer and sends him on his way. Despite his tough image, Elefante thinks of himself as a nice person, and he prides himself on his restraint. Although he traffics various items throughout the Cause, he’s never been in the drug business and does not plan to be; he finds it revolting.
Elefante is annoyed that the young officer has pulled right up to his house rather than communicating with him in a more private manner. Unlike some of the other mobsters in the novel, Elefante has a code of ethics that he is careful to follow. Although he is willing to break the law, he does not do so in ways that harm his community.
Themes
Community and Religion Theme Icon
After the police officer leaves, Elefante begins working in his mother’s garden, an activity that he enjoys. The garden is full of flowers and plants that Mrs. Elefante picked from lots all over the Cause District. As Elefante works, he thinks about the “disease” that is traveling around Brooklyn. The disease, he thinks, is “greed”—something that he’s contracted himself.
Again, flowers are a symbol of love—in this case, they symbolize Elefante’s love for his mother. Additionally, although Elefante claims to have contracted greed (as one would contract an illness), his actions throughout the rest of the novel say otherwise. However, perhaps the issue is on his mind because of the flashback that is about to occur.
Themes
Parental Figures and Masculinity  Theme Icon
Love, Hope, and Redemption Theme Icon
Quotes
As Elefante works, he thinks back to a strange encounter he had two weeks ago. Elefante and his men were unloading cigarettes when a man named Driscoll Sturgess, who calls himself the Governor, arrives and asks for a word with Elefante. The Governor is an old man who is approximately 70 years old. His face is covered in wrinkles, and one of his eyes is permanently swollen shut.
Once again, the novel mixes up the chronological order of its events. The Governor’s name suggests that he is—or at least was—an important person. Also, his physical appearance suggests that he’s lived a full life, as well as a difficult one.
Themes
Parental Figures and Masculinity  Theme Icon
Get the entire Deacon King Kong LitChart as a printable PDF.
Deacon King Kong PDF
Elefante invites the Governor to sit down, and the older man obliges. The Governor then states his business: he wants Elefante’s help. At first, Elefante is cautious. He tells the Governor that he may be able to help him—depending on what the Governor needs. Then, Elefante offers the Governor a cigarette. The Governor rejects it because he is a singer and doesn’t want to ruin his throat. This amuses Elefante, and he asks the old man to sing him a song. In response, the Governor sings a song about something called “The Venus of Willendorf.” The song means nothing to Elefante, but he the power and beauty of the Governor’s voice impresses him.
Elefante is always careful; in his line of business, he never knows who could come to him asking for help. The Governor could be a criminal, an undercover cop, or anything in between. Indeed, looks can be deceiving, as the old man belts out a song, almost out of nowhere. Although the song seems random and inconsequential, it is actually pertinent to the favor the Governor is looking for.
Themes
Parental Figures and Masculinity  Theme Icon
After the song, the Governor and Elefante return to the matter at hand. In order to gain Elefante’s trust, the Governor tells Elefante his real name. He also tells Elefante that nowadays, he runs a bagel shop in the Bronx. This surprises Elefante—to him, an Irishman owning a bagel shop is an oddity. Although the man amuses Elefante, he doesn’t trust him and tries to send him away. However, the Governor is persistent and assures Elefante that he was friends with Elefante’s father. Elefante searches his memory and eventually realizes remembers his father telling him about the Governor and something to do with money. As such, he decides to hear the man out.
Elefante’s amusement at the Governor’s current occupation would not be uncommon in the 1960s. Many types of businesses broke down along racial and ethnic lines, and it would indeed by rare to find an Irish person running a bagel shop (bagels are of Jewish origins). The Governor intrigues Elefante. Elefante has a lot of respect for his father, so if the man was truly his acquaintance, then he is worth listening to, especially if there is money involved.
Themes
Race and Power Theme Icon
Parental Figures and Masculinity  Theme Icon
The Governor tells Elefante that he is an old friend of Elefante’s father. The two of them met in prison and became lifelong pals. However, Elefante’s father is now dead, and the Governor wants Elefante’s help. Apparently. Elefante’s father was in possession of a valuable artifact known as “the Venus of Willendorf” before he died. The Governor thinks the artifact is now locked up in one of Elefante’s storage containers, which his father once owned.
Now Elefante knows the significance of the old man’s song, which also mentioned “the Venus of Willendorf.” This is a money-making opportunity that might be worthwhile for Elefante; after all, there is nothing here that seems to violate his code of ethics.
Themes
Community and Religion Theme Icon
Parental Figures and Masculinity  Theme Icon
Despite his initial skepticism of the Governor, Elefante now recalls that his father once told him about such a man who would come seeking a valuable artifact. Elefante’s father told him this story just before he died and failed to tell his son the nature or the location of the artifact. And Elefante’s interest piques after the Governor tells him it is worth millions of dollars. The Governor implores Elefante to try to seek out the object, and he instructs Elefante to call him when he finds it. 
The location of the Venus is another one of the novel’s central mysteries, and it is the nexus that Elefante’s narrative thread circles around. Unbeknownst to Elefante, it also relates to the other key mysteries of the novel. In the beginning of this chapter, he believes that Deems and Sportcoat are not his problem; however, he will eventually discover that they are relevant to his search for the Venus.
Themes
Parental Figures and Masculinity  Theme Icon