Jonathan Iwegbu is the protagonist of "Civil Peace." He is defined by optimism and resilience, even in the face of great tragedy. Despite the devastation of the Civil War, Jonathan celebrates what he still has rather than regretting what he has lost. For instance, he gives thanks for the lives of his wife and three living children, instead of mourning the son he buried.
Jonathan is not only optimistic, but also industrious. Instead of waiting for the situation to change, he starts several businesses. Through the end of the story, he remains focused on the future. Even when his ex gratia money is stolen by thieves, he tells sympathetic neighbors that he "count[s] it as nothing" and continues to work.
Maria, Jonathan's wife, mirrors his hard-working nature. After the Civil War, she begins making bean cakes to sell to neighbors. The morning after the robbery she joins her husband in focusing on work.
The thief leader who knocks at Jonathan's door is extremely confident: he announces himself as a thief, and mocks the family's cries for help. He even offers to call for soldiers after the police and neighbors fail to answer.
Overall, the thieves are a poignant symbol of the danger and uncertainty of Nigeria at this time. The leader's language suggests he is less educated than Jonathan, and his glib, arrogant tone reveals his awareness of how little a family has to rely on outside themselves. Though he doesn't commit any acts of violence, the thief leader represents the ever-present potential for violence in the unstable post-war period.
This group of at least five thieves accompany the thief leader as he accosts Jonathan's family for money. They form a sort of chorus, chanting responses to their leader's questions. The call and response structure of the dialogue recalls musical or theatrical forms. At one point, the chorus questions the decision to accept merely twenty pounds rather than roughly searching the house, but is quickly silenced by their leader. It is possible that these men are ex-soldiers.
the army officer
During the war, this army officer demanded Jonathan's bike for military purposes, but then accepted a bribe in lieu of the bike. In a tattered uniform and possessing a “certain lack of grip and firmness in his manner”, the officer represents the untrustworthiness and incompetence of authority in "Civil Peace."
This man was pick-pocketed of his egg-rasher money, and had a public breakdown outside the Treasury. He serves as a foil to Jonathan, both in terms of his carelessness and public desperation. Jonathan is marked by carefulness and resilience despite setbacks.
Civil Peace Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Civil Peace is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
King was in solitary confinement at the time he wrote the letter. He responded in newspaper margins because that was all he had to write on. He was given paper when he was released from solitary confinement.