What is Jonathan lwegbu's attitude toward life? Please illustrate with examples from the text that show his attitude. Why did Jonathan mistrust the officer who wanted to take his bicycle? What...
- What is Jonathan lwegbu's attitude toward life? Please illustrate with examples from the text that show his attitude.
- Why did Jonathan mistrust the officer who wanted to take his bicycle? What does this tell you about Jonathan?
- In what ways does Jonathan begin to rebuild his life after the war? Please illustrate with examples from the text to show how this family—husband and wife—begin to recover and display their resilience.
- What is the setting of the story? Is it based upon an actual historical event?
- How is Jonathan both a victim and a survivor? Whom does he rely upon?
- What do you learn about Jonathan from the beginning of the story and the final words of the story?
- Contemplate these comments made by Achebe, the author. Reading this story, do you, even though you are not the people in the story or inhabiting their environment, experience the miracle he speaks about in these comments? Explain your answer.
“Once you allow yourself to identify with the people in a story, then you might begin to see yourself in that story even if on the surface it's far removed from your situation. That is what try to tell my students: this is one great thing that literature can do—it can make us identify with situations and people far away.”
“I tell my students, it's not difficult to identify with somebody like yourself, somebody next door who looks like you. What's more difficult is to identify with someone you don't see, who's very far away, who's a different color, who eats a different kind of food. When you begin to do that then literature is really performing its wonders.”
Jonathan Iwegbu is the protagonist in Chinua Achebe’s short story “Civil Peace.” This story was written shortly after a three-year-long civil war in which Nigeria’s Ibo people attempted and ultimately failed to separate themselves from Nigeria to establish their own nation. With this kind of background, it might be easy to write a protagonist who is angry, bitter, or vengeful. But in Iwegbu, we get a character who is the opposite of those things. Instead, he is an optimistic, grateful, industrious, resilient man of faith who understands what truly has value and in whose hands his life lies.
Achebe (1971) introduces readers to Iwegbu in the first sentence: “Jonathan Iwegbu counted himself extraordinarily lucky.” He also tells us that “happy survival” is part of Iwegbu’s character and that "[h]e had come out of the war with five inestimable blessings—his head, his wife Maria’s head, and the heads of three out of their four children." We know immediately that Iwegbu has lost one child in the war, yet we find him not angry but grateful for those who survived. Iwegbu is also blessed to still have his bicycle, which he nearly lost during the war. He was able to bribe the “officer” trying to take his bike with money he had set aside for firewood. He buries the bicycle until the war is over. He is amazed when he finds it still serviceable, and declares, “Nothing puzzles God” (Achebe, 1971). This is a phrase repeated three times in the text, and it can be understood as, “God knows best.” Iwegbu seems to live his life in accordance with this belief.
In addition to being grateful, Iwegbu is industrious. He uses his bicycle to start a taxi business. He supports his children in selling mangoes to soldiers’ wives and his wife in making and selling akara balls to neighbors. When he has saved some money, he opens up a bar “for soldiers and other people with money" (Achebe, 1971). Instead of mourning what he has lost, instead of sitting around waiting for his situation to change, Iwegbu works harder and begins to remake a life for himself and his family.
Another of the miracles Iwegbu discovers, and presumably part of the reason he believes himself to be so blessed, is that his house, although in the middle of a war zone, has survived mostly intact. Although “the doors and windows were missing and five sheets off the roof,” Iwegbu asks, “But what is that?” and sets about picking up pieces of wood and soggy cardboard and hiring a “destitute carpenter with one old hammer, a bent plane, and a few bent and rusty nails” to repair the damage to their home (Achebe, 1971). He realizes again that he is blessed when he discovers that many with whom he worked pre-war had nowhere to return; they sleep in the dirt outside the company offices and scrounge what food they can. Even when his ex gratia money is stolen, Iwegbu tells his sympathetic neighbors, “I count it as nothing” and reminds them that nothing puzzles God. He also makes the point that he did not have that money the day before, or the week before, and it has no value compared to other things he could have lost. True to his character, Iwegbu and his family pick up and begin again; without complaining he straps his demijohn to his bicycle, his wife begins making akara balls, and his son rinses out beer bottles. Readers understand that life will go on in “happy survival” (Achebe, 1971) for Jonathan Iwegbu.