Why does Achebe juxtapose the details of the buried bicycle and the buried son in "Civil Peace"?

Chinua Achebe juxtaposes the details of the buried son and the buried bicycle in "Civil Peace" to point out the relative importance that Jonathan and his family give to them.

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In Chinua Achebe's short story "Civil Peace," he juxtaposes the details of the buried bicycle and of the buried son to emphasize the effects of the Nigerian Civil War that plagued the country from 1967 to 1970.

The bicycle is used as a means of hope in the story. By representing hope at the beginning of the story, Achebe shows the gratitude and joy felt by the Nigerian people after the war’s end. Achebe accredits the bicycle to a metaphorical notion of purpose. Jonathan illuminates this when he recites the history of the bicycle, showing in a matter-of-fact way its symbolic representation of hope for Jonathan, his family, and the war effort:

One day at the height of the war it was commandeered for "urgent military action." Hard as its loss would have been to him he would still have let it go without a thought had he not had some doubts about the genuineness of the officer.

In contrast, Achebe doesn't provide much detail much about the youngest son. He is mentioned briefly in the opening paragraph and at the end of the bicycle reference, but little else is known about the young boy. This is why he juxtaposes the details about the bicycle and the son. He is tracing a comparison between the bicycle and the hope and love that the boy once stood for. Here Achebe also alludes to the death of purpose and joy for Jonathan and his people. It would be four long years of strife until "civil peace" emerged in Nigeria, which would bring a sense of joy to the people that was long overdue.

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The short story "Civil Peace" by Chinua Achebe takes place in the aftermath of the devastating Nigerian Civil War. The protagonist, Jonathan Iwegbu, has been hiding in the forest with his family. He returns to their village, repairs their house, and then he and his wife and children get busy surviving and repairing their lives now that the war is over.

The overwhelming tone of the story is optimistic. Jonathan is bursting with optimism no matter what he encounters, which is epitomized by the expression "nothing puzzles God." For instance, when he returns to their village and finds their mud-brick house damaged, with doors, windows, and part of the roof missing, he does not lament what is missing but instead expresses gratitude that at least most of the house is standing. His attitude toward the death of his youngest son and the near loss of his bicycle are other examples of Jonathan's overflowing optimism.

Writers use juxtaposition, or the placing side-by-side of characters, actions, or ideas, to develop comparisons or contrasts in the context of the plot or theme. In the example of Jonathan's son and the bicycle being buried near each other in the graveyard, it is Achebe's intention to highlight Jonathan's attitude toward the two.

Achebe makes it clear from the beginning of the story that Jonathan considers himself "extraordinarily lucky" because he has come out of...

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the war with his wife and three out of his four sons still alive. None of the material things that he recovers compare in value to his family. From this we can deduce that the war must have been particularly savage. It is possible that other people lost their entire families. Of course Jonathan and his wife must have mourned the son that they lost, but at the same time, they consider themselves more blessed than many of the people around them.

In contrast, although Jonathan values the bicycle because it helps him to make money, it is clearly of little significance compared to the lives of his family. Achebe makes this clear at the end of the first paragraph:

As a bonus he also had his old bicycle—a miracle too but naturally not to be compared to the safety of five human heads.

The bicycle is helpful to him, but "he would still have let it go without a thought" to aid the war effort if he had not realized that the person who had attempted to requisition it was a charlatan. We see, then, that the placing of the dead son and the bicycle near each other in the graveyard allows Achebe to compare their relative importance to Jonathan and his family.

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Jonathan's buried bicycle is symbolic of his Igbo identity. Like his bicycle, he's had to bury that identity during the vicious civil war that's torn Nigeria apart for three long years. But with the war now over at long last he's able to dig up his bicycle—and with it, retrieve his buried identity—and move on with his life.

The bicycle's inevitably a bit rusty and has seen better days. But it's still in working order. And although Jonathan's son is no longer alive, what he represents—the Iwegbu family name—still lives on. For despite his sad loss, Jonathan has been able to keep his family together in the midst of all this chaos, bloodshed, and suffering. That explains his remarkable optimism in spite of everything that's happened. Just as Jonathan can use the bicycle once more as a way of providing for his family, he can point to the fact that most of his family are still alive as proof that he has much to be thankful for.

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