Student Question

What are Jonathan's "five inestimable blessings" in "Civil Peace", and what do they reveal about the Nigerian civil war?

Quick answer:

In the short story "Civil Peace" by Chinua Achebe, his "five inestimable blessings" are his life, his wife's life, and the lives of three of his children. His gratitude that his family is still alive shows readers that the Nigerian Civil War must have been extremely brutal and violent, and many people must have been killed.

Expert Answers

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The short story "Civil Peace" by Chinua Achebe tells of a man named Jonathan Iwegbu and his family in the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War. He retrieves his bicycle from the graveyard in which he has buried it and starts a taxi service. After making some money, he journeys to his home village and is astonished to find his house, a humble shack made out of mud blocks and zinc sheets, somewhat damaged but still standing. He moves back in with his wife and children, and they set out to make a living by selling palm wine, fried breakfast balls, and mangos to the survivors of the war.

Jonathan is an irrepressible optimist. Nothing gets him down, not even a band of thieves who come to his house in the middle of the night and steal money that the government has just given to him. Because of this, none of the "five inestimable blessings," the things he considers of most value that he still has after the war is over, are material possessions. Instead, they are his life, the life of his wife Maria, and the lives of three out of his four children. This is made clear at the very beginning of the story in the first paragraph.

Jonathan's grateful attitude shows how brutal the war must have been. He counts it a blessing that he only loses one member of his family. This leads readers to assume that other people around him must have lost many more. He is also dismissive of his material possessions, although he is grateful that he is able to salvage his bicycle and his partially ruined house. After all, material possessions can be replaced and more money can be earned, but his family is irreplaceable.

We have to admire Jonathan and his ever-optimistic attitude. Whether he finds his bicycle intact and is able to immediately use it, or he loses all the money he owns to a gang of thieves, he says, "I count it as nothing." His philosophy, which he expresses several times, is "Nothing puzzles God." This makes it easy to understand why his "five inestimable blessings" are the lives of the members of his family.

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