Civil Peace by Chinua Achebe
In Civil Peace by Chinua Achebe we have the theme of gratitude, optimism, struggle, survival, resilience and acceptance. Taken from his Girls at War and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Achebe may be exploring the theme of gratitude. Jonathan is grateful that he and his family have made it through the war. He may have lost one son but this does not dim the appreciation that Jonathan has in succeeding in surviving the war. Jonathan knows that in comparison to other people he is lucky. If anything Jonathan is optimistic about his and his family’s future. The country may have been torn apart during the war but Jonathan can still see something positive about the future. It is also noticeable how easily Jonathan accepts what has happened. This may be important as Achebe may be highlighting the fact that Jonathan holds no bitterness towards others for the circumstances he finds himself in. The fact that Jonathan’s house is still intact is viewed upon as a blessing by Jonathan particularly when he realises that others have not been as fortunate.
It is also interesting that Jonathan makes a success out of his and his family’s life after the war. If anything through the help of his bicycle Jonathan is able to open up a bar which provides money for his family. He also seems to have moved on. No longer does Jonathan visit the mine in where he used to work. This could be important as Achebe could be using the mine to mirror or symbolize the difficulties that one can occur through civil war or any type of war. The men at the mine are homeless unlike Jonathan. There does not seem to be any peace literal or metaphorical for the miners. They continue to struggle just as they did when the war was raging. If anything Jonathan has positioned himself well through his ingenuity with the reality being that his life may have improved after the war. Where others continue to struggle Jonathan appears to thrive. Which may be the point that Achebe is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that after the war some people like Jonathan were lucky. Through hard work they prospered and were able to rebuild their lives.
There is also a sense that Achebe is highlighting just how difficult life can be for an individual during times of war. Jonathan had to accept that his bike was being stolen by the man masquerading as a military officer and it is only through bribing the man that Jonathan gets his bike back. This may be important as it suggests that there is an element of corruption that can occur during a war. Jonathan had no recourse but to pay the man the two pounds as there was nobody he could report the stealing of his bike to. Which may leave some readers suggesting that during a war there is no justice. Institutes that an individual could rely on are no longer there. If anything with war comes lawlessness. This sense of lawlessness is particularly noticeable when the thieves arrive at Jonathan’s home. There is nobody to stop them. The country has yet to get back up on its feet. Another consequence of war. After war individuals are left to their own devices. Some people like Jonathan will successfully rebuild their lives while others will resort to criminal activity. Which is very much the case when it comes to the thieves who call upon Jonathan’s home.
The end of the story is also interesting as Achebe continues to explore the theme of optimism. Even though all of Jonathan’s money has been robbed he knows that things could have been worse. This could be important as not only is Jonathan remaining optimistic but he is also accepting what has happened to him. There is also a sense that Jonathan will not be beaten. The most important thing to Jonathan is his family and they have not been hurt by the thieves. He knows that he can start over again and that all he needs is time. The money becomes an irrelevancy. Something that is not important to Jonathan. Just as he rebuilt his life after the war the reader senses that likewise after being robbed by the thieves Jonathan will rebuild his life and business. At all stages Jonathan remains calm knowing what is important (family) and what is not important. The reader is left with a feeling that no matter what happens to Jonathan he will overcome any obstacle that he faces. The country might have been torn apart but Jonathan and his family haven’t been. They have showed resilience throughout the story and will show further resilience in the future. If anything Jonathan or his family will not be defeated.