Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 646

War
‘‘Civil Peace’’ takes place in the year after the Nigerian civil war has ended. Nigerians such as Jonathan feel fortunate simply to still be alive, as evidenced by the ‘‘current fashion’’ of greeting people with the words ‘‘Happy survival!’’ Now they face the monumental task of rebuilding both their country and their lives. Their difficulties are described throughout the story, both through the plight of Jonathan's family and that of his neighbors and acquaintances. A wealthy neighbor's home has been reduced to a ''mountain of rubble,'' and many other poor Nigerians are also rendered homeless. The tools of the ''destitute'' carpenter who Jonathan hires consist merely of ‘‘one old hammer, a blunt plane and a few bent and rusty nails.’’ The coal mine in Enugu does not reopen, leaving many men with no means of support. Meanwhile, in the midst of this economic chaos, bands of thieves roam the region, stealing money without fear that anyone— even the police—will stop them. The difficulties of this post-war period are also obliquely referenced in Jonathan's gratefulness at what he does retain: the house that is standing even though it lacks doors, windows, and part of the roof; and his old bicycle, which he places into service as a taxi.

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Law and Justice
During the war, lawlessness prevailed, as demonstrated by Jonathan's recollection of the requisition of his bicycle. A man, who was falsely masquerading as a military officer, commandeered the bicycle and then accepted a bribe of two pounds for its return; in reality, he was a thief.

In the aftermath of the war, this lawlessness continues, and institutions of justice are unable to— or choose not to—perform their duties. The watchman has fallen silent, failing to alert the residents to potential danger. The police do not respond to the Iwegbu family's pleas for help, failing in their duty to protect Nigeria's citizens. The thieves, armed with automatic weapons and threatening to enter the flimsy house, pose a possibility of real violence, which the family must thwart without help from anyone else. Additionally, the band of thieves who attack the home are likely soldiers or former soldiers themselves, as was often the case in post-civil war Nigeria. Jonathan's negative response when the leader asks, ‘‘[Y]ou wan make we call soja?’’ provides justification for making such an assumption.

Work Ethic
One of the themes of ''Civil Peace'' is the work ethic and its positive results. Jonathan makes use of everything at his disposal to achieve economic gain in the lean post-war year. He transforms his bicycle into a taxi, and in the course of two weeks, he pedals approximately eighty miles to earn money. His ability to return his home to a livable condition is also reliant on his work ethic. Because Jonathan goes back to Enugu before his neighbors do so, he is able to collect the zinc, wood, and cardboard that is needed to repair the damage the war has inflicted on the structure. Once resettled in their home, all members of the Iwegbu family set to work. The children pick mangoes to sell to soldiers' wives and Maria makes breakfast balls to sell to the neighbors. Jonathan uses these earnings to open a bar. While embarking upon this business, Jonathan still continues to regularly check in at the offices of the coal company, where he formerly worked as a miner, to see if it will reopen. The reader can assume that if returning to his former profession would earn him more money, Jonathan would do so. Even the day after the thieves' terrifying visit finds Jonathan and his family up before dawn already hard at work as if nothing had happened. The descriptors Achebe chooses in these last paragraphs underscore the family's work ethic; Jonathan is ''strapping'' a five-gallon container to his back; his wife is ‘‘sweating in the open fire.’’

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