Civil Peace

Civil Peace Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What does Jonathan mean when he says "Nothing puzzles God"?

    This phrase reflects not only Jonathan's worldview, but arguably the story's central point as well. In short, Jonathan is willing to accept that he cannot control the forces of fate, and instead focuses on the future. The Civil War had severely disordered Nigerian society. Jonathan successfully manages the chaos of the war and its aftermath by accepting both good and bad events as the will of a higher power. By attributing events to God, Jonathan accepts his inability to change things that have already come to pass. This allows him to focus his energy on working for the future instead of indulging in self-pity.

  2. 2

    How does Achebe use dialogue and dialect in "Civil Peace" to develop his characters?

    Achebe uses language to differentiate the protagonist from the thieves outside his door. Jonathan's English indicates a significant education, while the thieves' use of slang indicates their relative ignorance. Their dialogue draws significant attention to this discrepancy. Language then provides yet another way that Jonathan is markedly distinct from the world around him, which is a major theme of the story. Finally, dialect is also used to create authentic Nigerian characters; the slang used in the second half reflects the English of Southeastern Nigeria.

  3. 3

    Explain the story’s title: "Civil Peace."

    The title, spoken by the lead thief, is ironic. The aftermath of the Civil War is neither civil nor peaceful. Pick-pocketing, armed robbery, and homelessness plague the country. The title also uses structure to suggest a certain continuity between the Civil War and the Civil Peace. The threat of violence continues to disrupt the family's life after the end of the conflict; ultimately, the problems of the war have not disappeared with a peace treaty. The fact that the world has not essentially changed frames the story's central questions of personal responsibility in the face of danger and uncertainty.

  4. 4

    What does the greeting “Happy Survival!” reveal about Jonathan’s personality and experiences?

    The greeting - which Jonathan embraces not just as a trend but moreover as a genuine expression of his joy to have survived the war - contains two revelations. The first is that Jonathan is an optimistic and constructive character who does not allow past adversity to affect his ability to function in the present. The second, more subtle, implication is that he has experienced truly awful, frightening and life-threatening things during the war. If mere survival is celebrated, than the danger must have been severe. These two interpretations do not contain an impossible contradiction, however, but instead suggest the two sides to Jonathan's character - his awareness of the world's danger, but persistence in the face of it nevertheless.

  5. 5

    Evaluate the lead thief’s claim that “Trouble done finish” in Nigeria.

    The thieves' very presence refutes this claim. More alarming than their presence is that they act with complete impunity; the night watchman, the police and the family's neighbors all fail to protect Jonathan from theft. Clearly, the world has plenty of "trouble" left. Earlier in the story, a man is pick-pocketed in front of a government building. Other scenes, where unemployed men wait outside a shuttered coal mine and where children pick fruit by a military cemetery, paint a picture of a wounded country. Despite Jonathan's optimism, Nigeria remains troubled.

  6. 6

    How does the story depict figures of authority?

    Authority in "Civil Peace" is corrupt, inefficient and absent. There are several examples. A military officer demands Jonathan's bike, relenting only when offered a bribe. Receiving his ex-gratia payment requires Jonathan to suffer through "endless scuffles in queues and counter queues in the sun outside the Treasury". And worst of all, the police and neighborhood night watchman fail to protect the family against theft. Moreover, the thieves, an organized group of men armed with machine guns, are likely former soldiers themselves ("Civil Peace" 19). The fact that authority has proven itself useless only reinforces the story's suggestion that everyone must take care of himself in a broken world.

  7. 7

    Why does Achebe repeatedly refer to Jonathan and his family keeping their heads?

    This repeated synechdoche, where a head stands for a whole person, emphasizes the brutality of the Civil War. It obliquely suggests violence by referring to the body in pieces; the thought of someone retaining his head inspires thoughts of decapitation. Moreover, the repeated use of the phrase stresses how miraculous having five surviving family members is for the Iwegbus. Overall, Achebe's language reminds us of the violence the country has suffered even while staying closer to the perspective of a man who focuses on optimism rather than upon that violence.

  8. 8

    How does Achebe include the death of Jonathan’s son in the story? Why does he take this approach?

    The death of Jonathan's son is part of the dark undercurrent of violence that runs through the story; it is rarely mentioned directly but gives dimension to the story's events and the characters' actions. Jonathan's youngest son is first mentioned indirectly when the narrator reveals that three of the family's four children survived. When Jonathan buries his bicycle, the narrator explains he hid it in the same clearing where he laid his son to rest. In other words, Jonathan is clearly able to manage his grief, seeing the burial place only as an opportunity to keep his bike. The death then disappears from the story until it is subtly referenced as Jonathan explains he lost much greater things than money in the war. This death demonstrates to the audience that Jonathan's optimism is not naive, but hard-won. He has chosen to move forward not because he does not recognize the extent of tragedy, but because he prefers to keep surviving.

  9. 9

    Explain the significance of the man who was robbed of his egg-rasher money.

    Though Jonathan eventually suffers a similar robbery, the man pick-pocketed outside the Treasury acts as Jonathan's foil, in two ways. First, the man loses his money not only through bad luck, but through carelessness. Jonathan refuses to let himself be so careless, both with the egg-rasher money and in his life in general. The extremity of his panicked walk home could even be comic if his desperation was not so palpable. Secondly, the pickpocketing victim responds to misfortune in a starkly different manner than Jonathan does. After realizing he has been robbed, he "collapse[s] into near madness" in the middle of the crowd. Overall, this moment highlights the care with which Jonathan safe-guards his money, and his resilience after he experiences robbery.

  10. 10

    What role does violence play in "Civil Peace"?

    Violence in "Civil Peace" is extreme but always on the periphery. In some ways, the idea that violence could always arrive is as threatening as definite violence can be. After the end of the Civil War, violence continues to threaten Nigerian society, linking the war to the post-war period, blurring the distinction. Though violence is never actually witnessed or described, it is a constant presence throughout "Civil Peace": buildings lie in ruins, children collect fruit near a cemetery, a man despairs after being pick-pocketed, thieves fire machine guns into the night, and Jonathan's youngest son lies buried under a small clearing. Because violence can appear at any time, Jonathan's resilience is all the more impressive.