What are the literary devices used in Chinua Achebe's “Civil Peace”?

Chinua Achebe's short story “Civil Peace” uses literary devices like synecdoche, flashback, repetition, simile, metaphor, dialect, and irony to paint a fascinating portrait of the life of Jonathan and his family after the war.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In addition to the literary devices already pinpointed, Achebe also uses the following:

Imagery : Imagery is description using any of the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Achebe often uses vivid visual imagery that paints a picture, such as in the quote below, in which he...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In addition to the literary devices already pinpointed, Achebe also uses the following:

Imagery: Imagery is description using any of the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Achebe often uses vivid visual imagery that paints a picture, such as in the quote below, in which he describes the ragged appearance of a soldier:

his disreputable rags ... the toes peeping out of one blue and one brown canvas shoes ... the two stars of his rank done obviously in a hurry in biro.

Indirect characterization: In indirect characterization, the narrator does not tell us what a character is like. Instead, we are shown this through his dialogue and behavior. Indirect characterization in this story shows that Jonathan is both resourceful and upbeat as a person. For example, when the ragged solider arrives and wants his bike, Jonathan thinks quickly, and is able to reclaim the bicycle. We learn that he:

produced the two pounds with which he had been going to buy firewood which his wife, Maria, retailed to camp officials for extra stock-fish and corn meal, and got his bicycle back.

He is then resourceful in burying the bike to hide it.

Jonathan is upbeat throughout in what he says. For example, when his neighbors commiserate with him over the lost twenty pounds, he states: "'I count it as nothing." Instead, he reiterates his faith that nothing puzzles God.

Polysyndeton: In this literary device, an author strings together a series that normally would be separated with commas by using "ands." An example is below:

He rubbed his eyes and looked again and it was still standing there before him.

His small zinc house is still standing while the giant concrete house nearby built by a rich man is rubble. The series of "ands" slows the reader down and focuses his attention on the wonder of that particular moment.

Finally, Achebe uses a simile when he describes the fear constricting Jonathan when the gang of thieves bangs on his door, saying that "his throat felt like sandpaper."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Chinua Achebe's short story “Civil Peace” contains many literary devices. We'll examine a few of them.

In the first paragraph, the narrator says that Jonathan comes out of the war with five blessings, “his head, his wife Maria's head and the heads of three out of their four children.” Of course, Jonathan has more of himself and his family than their heads, but this is a prime example of synecdoche, identifying the whole by a part, here the whole person by his or her head.

The story's second paragraph is a flashback. Jonathan looks back into the time of war and thinks about how he saved his bicycle from confiscation and buried it. Through this flashback, we get an idea of what life was like during the war even though the war is over when the story takes place.

Achebe uses repetition throughout the story. He continually repeats the phrase “Nothing puzzles God” when something unexpected but good happens. The phrase appears several times and is especially poignant when it ends the story in recognition of the family's survival yet again.

The author also employs both simile (a comparison using “like” or “as”) and metaphor (a comparison without such identifying words). When the government payments begin, “It was like Christmas” for Jonathan and his neighbors. This is a simile. Yet when, in the midst of an “oceanic crowd,” a thief steals one man's payment, Jonathan learns the need for extreme caution. Here we have a metaphor: the crowd is an ocean of people.

In the conversation between Jonathan and the thieves, we notice two literary devices. Achebe includes much dialect, writing out the sounds of the thieves' speech. For example, “Na tief-man and him people,” the leader says. “Make you hopen de door.” We have to work rather hard to figure out what he is saying at times, but we certainly get a good idea of his speech patterns. Finally, Jonathan and the leader of the thieves both use irony when they call each other “friend.” They are anything but friends!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Here are a few:

Dialogue: Achebe uses dialogue with great discretion in "Civil Peace." In the early sections of the story, only two phrases of dialogue are presented, both of which support Jonathan's optimism: "Happy survival!" and "Nothing puzzles God."

Drama: In Chinua Achebe, C. L. Innes suggested, "The second half of this story, the account of the robbery, suggests that Achebe might well if he so wished, prove a dramatist."

Dialect: The verbal exchange also starkly contrasts the broken English spoken by the thieves and the proper English spoken by Jonathan.

Point of View: The story is told from the third-person point of view. All the events in the story are filtered through Jonathan's eyes and thoughts. Because of this point of view, the reader is better able to comprehend the unfailing optimism with which Jonathan regards the world and his circumstances.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team