Chinua Achebe’s “Civil war”
Blog by: Fekadu Debebe| March 26, 2015| Charleston, SC
During my college English study, I came across with an African writer named Chinua Achebe who was a writer, professor, and critic. To me, Achebe is one of the most important writers for the modern African literature today. He wrote many Poet and novels during his lifetime. He is best known for his novel “Things Fall Apart.” For today, I will try to summarize one of his short stories “Civil Peace” written in 1971. In the future, I will try to blog more about him and his other works after I finish reading his literature and critics.
“Civil Peace” is a very interesting title for not heard of it before and we are used to hear civil war a lot but not “civil peace.” Achebe’s “Civil peace” set in the western Nigeria, was written right after the Nigerian civil war. The story circles around a hardworking Nigerian, Jonathan Iwegbu, his family, and the outcomes of the devastating civil war. According to Achebe, the war ended up being the result of an extreme ethnic hatred and starvation. In one of my blogs, I have tried to mention that war was one of the reasons for Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation that led the country to a financial instability and run out of national currency. Similarly, in most African countries, war has left its black hole in which society has to live with it. (In physics, black hole is a region of space-time having a strong gravitational pull that no particles can escape from it!) Due to Nigerian civil war, an estimated one million civilians had died from the bloodshed and extreme malnutrition in three years period. Those who survived from the war, including Jonathan, the protagonist of this story, were left to re-establish their family and lived in the aftermath of the war. This is what Achebe was trying to pin point in his short story, “Civil peace.”
In the story, Jonathan, like all the other survivors of the civil war, has returned to his village along with his wife and three of his four children. He feels that he is “extraordinarily lucky” for surviving the war and being able to re-establish his family. During the war, he has buried his means of transportation that is his bike so that it won’t be stolen. After war, he is thankful for having his “still-working” bicycle. Besides, he was also able get his “still-standing home,” which he rejuvenated and re-resided in it after returning to his village. Jonathan and the entire nation had suffered from the aftereffects of the war. However, to Jonathan, whatever happened is a dead fish. He wants to proceed forward in an optimistic manner. To him, both his good and bad lucks are simply life experiences rather complaining about it as an ordinary person. He also likes to explain his feelings in a phrase: “Nothing puzzles God.”
Jonathan has lost not only his job and money, but also his son. However, he remains optimistic despite all these facts. Right after the war, Jonathan and his family started to work harder; he has used his bicycle to give taxi service to the community and he has also opened a bar for soldiers.
One day, he returned the rebel currency and got 20 pounds as an award. After he got the money, remembering a robbery he saw several days earlier, he planned to hide the money. Conversely, the same night, a group of thieves knocked on his door demanding money or they will kill everyone in the house. The family tried to call the neighbors and police, but nobody showed up. The thieves then scared them, yelling even louder to show them that Jonathan’s family does not have any help. Then, the thief leader demanded 100 pounds, promising not to hurt Jonathan or his family if they give the money. Eventually, Jonathan realized that he does not have any option, and gave the thieves the 20 pounds that he has. Some thieves insisted that they should search the house for more, but the thief leader believed that this is all Jonathan has. They took the money and went away.
The next morning, Jonathan and the family were back to work as the neighbors arrived. Knowing their confusion how he managed the situation, Jonathan explained to his neighbors that he cannot compare the reward money to what he lost in the war. Similarly, he chose to focus on his work in the present rather than regretting on what has happened in the past. He reinforced his thoughts by his habitual phrase “Nothing puzzles God.”
In this short story, the author was trying to encourage his native Nigerian people how they should overcome the aftermath of the civil war emphasizing Jonathan’s strength and optimism. Jonathan has been wise and understanding throughout the story. His family considered him as their hero. His neighbors perceived him as a wise and religious man. His community knows him as a hard worker. For us, the take-away from Achebe’s short writing is that we should be thankful for all the things we have in life rather than complaining about what we do not have.
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