Civil Peace [Short Story] Summary & Exercise

Civil Peace presents the detailed summary of the story of Civil Peace by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe. The main summary gives ground reality of war..
Civil Peace [Short Story] Summary & Exercise

Civil Peace [Short Story] Summary & Exercise


The story 'Civil Peace' (1971) is set in the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War. It is about the effects of the Nigerian Civil War on the people and the “Civil Peace” that followed. Nigeria became an independent nation from the British colony in 1960. The Nigerian Civil War began in 1967 when the Igbo tried to separate from Nigeria to form the independent Republic of Biafra. After enduring three years of bloody battles, the Ibo were forced to surrender in 1970, ending the war. Biafrans suffered a severe famine due to the effect of war. Nearly a million people died of starvation. 

The story is about a Biafran civil war and its effect on the lives of ordinary Nigerian people. It is an interesting and touching comment on quick and easy recovery from hardship after the devastating civil war.  The main character of the story had come out of the war with five inestimable blessings to him, his wife Maria and his three out of four children.

Summary of the Story Civil Peace

This story Civil Peace is about a Nigerian family who lived in Eastern Nigeria. Jonathan Iwegbu the main character of this story presented as one of the family members who has experienced the devastating Civil War. He has been successful to survive the Nigerian Civil War so he considers himself as 'extraordinarily lucky'. He repairs his bicycle after returning home to the capital city of Enugu. To explain both his good and bad fortune to himself and others, he often repeats a phrase: 'Nothing puzzles God.' He uses his bicycle to start a taxi service to make money. In two weeks he makes 150 pounds.

Jonathan then travels to Enugu to search for his home, and to his surprise, it’s still standing when other structures around it are ruined. The house needs some repairs, so he gathers all the materials and calls a carpenter to make it good. Then, he moves to his house with his family. The entire family works hard to earn money. After finding that his job as a miner is not a possibility, he decides to run a bar for soldiers out of his house.

One day, after turning over rebel currency, Jonathan is given a reward of 20 pounds. That night, a group of thieves comes to his house and knocks on his door demanding money. The family informs the neighbours and police to come and help but they don’t reply to come and help them. Jonathan and his family feel insecure and helpless. Finding himself helpless, he gives that money to those thieves. 

The next morning, he and his family are back at work as the neighbours arrive to review the results of the night's unfortunate trouble. They discover Jonathan and the family are back at work. Jonathan explains to them that the loss of money cannot be compared to what he lost in the war. He chooses to focus on his work in the present rather than regret what has happened. Life goes usual for Jonathan. 

Who is the Writer of the Story Civil Peace?

Chinua Achebe /tʃɪnwɑ: ətʃɛbeɪ/ (1930 -2013) was a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, and critic. He studied English, history, and theology at University College, the University of Ibadan. His first novel Things Fall Apart (1958) is the most widely read book in modern African literature. His later novels include No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), Anthills of the Savannah (1987), and his last novel There Was a Country was published in 2012. He also published a large number of short stories, children's books, and essay collections. Since he was born in the Igbo village of Ogidi in south-eastern Nigeria, his novels focus on the traditions of Igbo society. He wrote about the cultural and political turmoil of Nigeria, from colony to postcolonial, and through civil war and beyond. 

Analytical Summary of the Story 

Achebe's short story 'Civil Peace' is a realistic story that presents the condition immediately after the Civil War. The story is about a Biafran civil war and its effect on the lives of ordinary Nigerian people. It is an interesting and touching comment on quick and easy recovery from hardship after the war. Most people are damaged by the aftereffects of the war, but Jonathan Iwegbu thinks himself very lucky to have survived, although he had lost his youngest son. He had come out of the war with five inestimable blessings to him, his wife Maria and his three out of four children. As an extra bonus, he had his bicycle, which he dug up almost as good as new after the fighting had stopped. This bicycle was almost seized by the military officer, but he got it by spending two pounds. Then he found his little house in Enugu still standing, despite the absence of minor details like doors, windows, and a roof. 

For someone like Jonathan Iwegbu who saw everything in positive terms, this was another miracle in the town. And now the family started its journey back to normality and prosperity. The children started selling mangoes, his wife sold Akara balls and he was involved in his selling palm wine. From one point of view, it is meagre material with which to start a new life, but to the very optimistic Jonathan it is, after the horrors of war, blessing upon blessing. The final windfall is the ex-gratia payment (the egg rasher) he receives. It confirms his belief in a generous god. 'Nothing puzzles God' is his catchphrase. In both situations, he uses the same phrase. Everything that life provides is a bonus to him. He counts himself as extraordinarily happy after he has survived the war. The recovery of his bicycle is another miracle for him because he sees everything in positive terms.

Jonathan starts a new life in his house with insufficient material. He is optimistic and is happy with what he has. The ex-gratia payment is the windfall gain. But when the thieves take it away, he is engaged in his everyday work. He considers that his life did not depend on that money last week. He is clever and practical. Once his bicycle was seized by military officials,  but Jonathan got it back by giving the man two pounds. He willingly gave twenty pounds and saved the lives of his family members. He works hard in both situations. He has complete faith in God.

One night there occurs a further return to normality when thieves pay the long-suffering to Jonathan. First of all, the thieves knock on the door and politely announce themselves 'No tief man and his people. When the family screams for help the thieves offer their assistance, knowing no one will come to help and that the soldiers are more to be feared than themselves. Once that has been settled, they are prepared to be reasonable. They say that they are not bad thieves to trouble the people, that war, as well as trouble, has finished, and that it is the time of civil peace. After the uneasy negotiation, Jonathan comes to accept the new conditions of civil peace and hands over his egg rasher. 

Although the great mass protests, the leader, as a 'good ties' promise a fair business: 'we just take our small money and go. When his neighbours appear in the early morning to express their sympathy, the family is at work again. And Jonathan has 'written off his egg rasher: Did I depend on it last week? Or is it greater than other things that went to the war? ... Nothing puzzles God! Once again, his optimistic fatalism enables him to rise above the difficulty. Everything that life provides is a bonus. In this fine story, Achebe carefully maintains the balance between realistic reportage and the firm shape of the fable so that the result tells us more about the war and its after-effects than any account of detailed documentation.

Exercise [Question Answer]

Before You Read

a. Do you think there would be complete peace after the war? 

It is almost impossible to have complete peace right after the civil war. The effects of the war would remain for a long time. It takes a long time for a change. 

b. If a disaster occurred, what would you save to ensure your “happy survival”? 

If a disaster occurred, I would save my family members and relatives to ensure my "happy survival." My family and relations mean a lot to me. 

c. If someone stole something from you out of very few possessions, how would you feel? Would you accept the loss or get angry? 

I would feel very angry if someone stole something from me out of very few possessions. I would try to regain my loss through various means. 

Understanding The Text Civil Peace

a. Why did Jonathan think of himself as 'extraordinarily lucky'? 

Jonathan thought of himself as 'extraordinarily lucky' because he experienced various miracles in his life. Surviving after a devastating civil war is a matter of luck. The main miracle in his life was the 'Happy survival' of his family members. 

b. What are the ‘five blessings’ for which Jonathan is grateful? 

The 'five blessings' for which Jonathan is grateful are: his head, his wife Maria's head, and the heads of three out of their four children. He is too much delighted to find his family members safe even after the war. 

c. Why did Jonathan mistrust the officer who wanted to take his bicycle? What does this tell you about the situation in Nigeria? 

Jonathan mistrusted the officer who wanted to take his bicycle because the officer easily accepted a bribe in exchange for his bicycle. Jonathan knew about his character through his acts of gripping the bicycle. This tells us that the situation in Nigeria, which was so worse where government officials were corrupt who expected their profit from the citizens in the name of the law. 

d. What visitors might be at the door? Are Jonathan and his wife completely surprised? Explain. 

The knock at the door is heard late at night. When Jonathan calls out to ask about the visitors, he gets a reply from the visitors. So the visitors might be thieves who have come so late at night to rob money. Yes, Jonathan and his wife are completely surprised. They even become fearful because they haven't been awakened so late at night in such a way before. 

e. Why does no one in the neighbourhood respond when the thieves pound on Jonathan’s door? Why do the thieves call for the police? 

 When Jonathan's family knows about the arrival of thieves, they become quite fearful. Being panic, they yell out for neighbours and police expecting help from their side. But, no one comes there for their help because the neighbours are also feeling the same terror as Jonathan's family members. They are also panic-stricken due to the presence of thieves. Hearing Jonathan's family yell for help, the thieves also mockingly support Jonathan's family by calling out for police. They know very well that no one will come there to support Jonathan's family.

Reference to the Context

a. What does Jonathan mean by his expression “Nothing puzzles God”? What does this expression reveal about his character? Explain by citing details from the story. 

In the story "Civil Peace" Jonathan uses the expression " Nothing puzzles God "whenever something miraculous happens with him. He uses this line when he gets his bicycle back in a fine condition out of the ground. Next, he uses it when he has finds his house still standing after the war. By " Nothing puzzles God" he means that anything can happen, but almighty God, being omniscient, is not surprised and even puzzled by anything. He means to say that God knows everything. The last time he uses it is at the end of the story after his family is robbed of the ex- gratia. This expression reveals that he is a quite optimistic person who has a keen belief in the almighty God. He feels too delighted to get miracles in his life. This expression also reveals that he is a good person who enjoys everything he has but never laments about his losses. 

b. How does Jonathan change as he experiences the conflicts in his life? Explain. 

Jonathan changes according to his optimistic feelings about his life and family. He experiences many conflicts in his life but the miracles and his struggles in his life for happy survival mean a lot to him. He keeps on doing his best to uplift his family life being faithful towards God. c. Read the extract and answer the questions below. “To God who made me; if you come inside and find one hundred pounds, take it and shoot me and shoot my wife and children. 

d. Nigerian English has words like soja 'soldier' and katakata 'confusion', 'trouble' derived apparently from English words but transformed by native languages' phonologies. What does the author’s use of dialect here add to the story? 

I think that author's use of dialect here add a unique image to differentiate the protagonist from the thieves outside his door. Their dialect is also used to create authentic Nigerian characters; the slang used in the second half reflects the English of Southeastern Nigeria. 

e. Why do you think the thieves who come to rob Jonathan speak English with a heavier African accent than Jonathan does? 

Jonathan's English indicates a significant education, while the thieves' use of slang indicates their relative ignorance. Their dialect is also used to create authentic Nigerian characters; the slang used in the second half reflects the English of Southeastern Nigeria. 

f. The title of the story "Civil Peace" itself is ironical as there is little to differentiate ‘civil peace’ from ‘civil war’. Do you think that the title of this story is appropriate, or would “Civil War” have been a better title? Explain. 

The title of Chinua Achebe's short story “ Civil Peace” is especially interesting because it is used in an ironic sense. The title of the story is ironic because even though the war had come to an end, the area was still chaotic and filled with strife. No, I don't think the title of this story is appropriate. Yes, civil war would have been a better title because we find chaos, fear, hardships, the war in this story.

 Reference Beyond the Context

a. How would you describe the civil peace in Nigeria? 

In my opinion, the civil peace that had come after the end of the civil war in Nigeria was merely so-called. The environment during that time was so fearful. People were not safe. People had to live fearful life facing many hardships. 

b. What kind of attitude towards life do you think you would have if your situation was similar to that of Jonathan’s? 

If my situation was similar to that of Jonathan's, I would have similar optimism about my life and my family. I would try to do hard labour keeping faith in God for the welfare of my relatives. I would try to be quite away from violence. 

c. Draw the character sketch of Jonathan Iwegbu. 

Jonathan is a quite optimistic person who has keen faith in God. He always utters a line in the name of God saying that 'Nothing puzzles, God'. He becomes quite delighted to find miracles in his life. He never lives in disparity. He is a hard-working person who thinks positively for everyone. He loves his family members much. At the time of hardships, he tries to save his family first. During the time of Civil Peace, he works so hard to restore treasury, and in exchange, they gave him 20 pounds of legitimate currency. He even doesn't lament over his loss at last.

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