Life And Works Of Chinua Achebe English Literature Essay

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One of Africas foremost contemporary authors and spokespeople Chinua Achebe has always taken as a primary concern understanding and accurately depicting the African people (Petri,2). In 1964, he wrote that the writers duty ''is to explore in depth the human condition.'' In his pre-civil war novels, Achebe focused on the culture of his people and their emergence from colonial powers (Innes, David, Ezenwa. Pg.1). However, with the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war, Achebe embraced the revolutionary spirit. Not only did he serve as a diplomat, bringing eastern Nigeria's message overseas, and write radio programs about the cause, he also found himself unable to work on long fictional works during this period. Even two years after the war ended, he felt no urge to work on a novel "I can't write a novel now; I wouldn't want to. And even if I wanted to, I couldn't. I can write poetry'something short, intense, more in keeping with my mood." He did, however, write three short stories concerning the civil war, one of which was Civil Peace. Achebe was born on November 15, 1930 in small town called Ogidi in Nigeria. He was brought up as Christian, but he remained curious about the more traditional Nigerian faiths. (Innes, David, Ezenwa. Pg. 2). Achebe served as an ambassador (representative) to Biafra when they tried to break away as separate state from Nigeria. (Achebe). While working for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation he composed his first novel, Things Fall Apart (1959), the story of a traditional warrior hero who is unable to adapt to changing conditions in the early days of British rule. The book won immediate international recognition and also became the basis for a play by Biyi Bandele.

The setting of ''Civil Peace'' is Enugu, the former capital of Biafra (eastern Nigeria) and the surrounding countryside. The most important aspects that define both settings are not the physical geography but the human geography. Both settings are populated with official

functionaries and neighbors. These two groups provide a sort of economic protection'for the Iwegbu family makes their living from them'but fail to provide any physical protection. "Civil Peace,'' which first appeared in print in 1971, takes place in the immediate post-war period. Focusing not on the hardships and devastation of the war but on the new opportunities to rebuild, the story has struck many critics for its optimism and positive outlook. At the same time, "Civil Peace'' insidiously demonstrates the similarities between Nigeria during the war and after the war'during both periods, violence and corruption can emerge at any time. Achebe believes that the African writer must function as a social critic, and in ''Civil Peace,'' he shares two co-existing views of the postwar Nigerian stat (Innes, pg.2).

This story shares one man's experience in a tumultuous post-civil war period, published only a short time after the war in Nigeria ended, the story chronicles a perilous era at the same time that Nigerians were still undergoing the sort of trials that it describes. As in his other short stories focusing on the war, Achebe does not attempt to maintain an authorial sense of detachment. ''Civil Peace'' represents Achebe's ongoing social commitment to his culture, his people, and the fight against injustice.

''Civil Peace'' captures a spirit of optimism. After three years, the bloody, deadly war is finally over. Though the people of eastern Nigeria, the former Biafra, have lost their bid for independence, with the end of the conflict, they can refocus their attention. Now, instead of funneling their energies into the war effort or merely getting by, they can work for better, more prosperous times. The story opens on an extremely positive note: 'Jonathan Iwegbu counted himself extraordinarily lucky' (Achebe, 509). 'Happy survival!' meant so much more to him than just a current fashion of greeting old friends in the first hazy days of peace. It went deep to his heart. Jonathan is sensitive to his plight and that of other Biafrans. He knows he is lucky to have escaped the war with "five inestimable blessings' himself, his wife Maria and the heads of three out of their four children.''

After the war ended, Jonathan found himself very lucky wherever he goes he encountered 'miracles'. He digs up the bicycle that he buried for safekeeping during the war, and he is able to put it into service as a taxi after only a little greasing with palm oil (Achebe, 509). Thus, at a time when many people had few material possessions at their disposal or lacked the means to make a living, Jonathan is able to embark on building his new life. His occupational success, which he deems good fortune, is later contrasted to the occupational disarray that his former colleagues at the coal mine experience. Whereas, he has created the job of running his bar, many of them are unemployed and spend their days and weeks waiting outside the mining offices, hoping to hear news of its reopening (510).

Upon his first trip back to Enugu, he found another ''monumental blessing'' standing before him this time it was 'little house in Ogui Overside. Indeed nothing puzzles God!' (510). While his neighbor had put up solid concrete house just before war which was not big mountain of rubble, while Jonathan's house was made out of mud blocks. Again, he chooses to spend his time and energy being grateful for what he still retains, not regretful for what he has lost because of the war. He also rationalizes any misfortune. For instance, with regard to his house, since he is one of the early returnees to Enugu, he is able to readily collect enough materials to repair it 'before thousands more come out of their forest holes looking for the same things'. Soon, the "overjoyed'' family is able to move back in. The house even becomes a "greater blessing'' as it allows Jonathan to open a bar serving fresh palm-wine mixed with water, which turns out to be his primary source of income.

''Nothing puzzles God,'' is Jonathan's favorite saying to express his wonder as he encounters all of these miracles. Writes C. L. Innes in Chinua Achebe, ''for Jonathan, every small act of recovery'even the money earned by the hard work of his wife and himself is ex gratia, an act of grace bestowed upon the lucky by the unfathomable gods.''(2). Indeed, when he receives his "egg-rasher" payment from the government, even after waiting in lines for five days, he compares the egg-rasher to a "windfall" and the day to Christmas. In his eyes, the twenty pounds is a gift from the government, not personal earnings. He thus denies the hard work that he performed in the past, which led him to possess the Biafran rebel money that he then exchanged for the ex-gratia payment which is monetary award given freely rather than required by law. (511). The constant mention of the phrase, 'Nothing puzzles God.' This suggests an underlying religion and/or faith in the story. More than that, though, it shows Jonathan's willingness to surrender himself and to leave his fate in the hands of his God (Webber, 1). Even after losing this enormous sum of money to the band of thieves, Jonathan does not forsake his optimistic outlook. In this respect, he stands in stark contrast to another man who lost his egg-rasher money and then "collapsed into near-madness in an instant.'' Jonathan's neighbors come over to bitterness toward them for not coming to the aid of his family. The story closes with Jonathan's oft-repeated expression of hope: "Nothing puzzles God.''

Despite the many notes of optimism that ring throughout the story, a darker undercurrent runs through it, which is discernible from the very first paragraph. When the narration enumerates Jonathan's most important blessings as the lives of three of his four children, no regret for the little boy who was lost is evident. In the second paragraph, the narrative style turns even grimmer as the boy is obliquely compared to the bicycle, which Jonathan buried during the war ''in the little clearing in the bush where the dead of the camp, including his own youngest son, were buried'' (509). After the war had ended, the bicycle is metaphorically and physically brought back from the dead, becoming a ''miracle," but the boy is never mentioned again. Another dark note is tacitly raised by the Iwegbu children's mango-selling business (510). They collect the fruit near the military cemetery, and with this minor detail, the narration implies that any present success of Nigeria will be based only upon the deaths of those who suffered during the war. Sympathize with his loss, Jonathan displays composure. He has neither the inclination, nor the time, to share their regret. Significantly, as they are speaking their words of commiseration, Jonathan has mentally and physically already moved on. " 'I count it as nothing,' he told his sympathizers, his eyes on the rope he was tying.'' (Achebe, 513). His eyes are fixed on the future'the rope that represents the earnings that will come his way through his hard work and that of his family. Also significantly, Jonathan imputes no blame on his neighbors.

Similarly, while Jonathan downplays the psychological effect of the thieves' visit, the menace posed by this band alludes to the dangers inherent in contemporary Nigerian society. The house is hardly a miracle anymore, for behind "its rickety old door that could have fallen down,'' Jonathan and his family can find no true safety. The thieves represent modern devices of carnage. They are armed with automatic weapons that ''rang through the sky'' (512). Their leader's voice carries ''like a lone shot in the sky.'' They make threats to enter the house if they don't get the money they demand. To keep them out, Jonathan is forced to swear on the lives of his wife and children, his "inestimable blessings,'' that he only has twenty pounds. With this declaration, Jonathan shows the close linkage between life and death in post-civil war Nigeria. Jonathan also explains to his neighbors why he does not care about the loss of his ''egg-rasher'' payment. As he points out, he did not' 'depend on it last week'' and instead relied on his own labor to rebuild his life. However, the words that he uses to express the insignificance of this loss actually shows that Jonathan'and Nigerians like him'have experienced terrible losses solely because of the war. He compares the "egg-rasher" to ''other things that went with the war.'' But the reader knows that Nigerians lost precious, irreplaceable possessions in the war: children, homes, the ability to earn a living, a sense of security and safety. Therefore, despite Jonathan's disavowal, the egg-rasher must be a serious loss. ''I say, let egg-rasher perish in the flames! Let it go where everything else has gone,'' Jonathan declares, but likening the theft of the money to its immolation in fire acknowledges that the war has actually brought about useless, devastating destruction, the kind that cannot be so easily forgotten or mended.

''War done finish. ... No Civil War again. This time na Civil Peace. No be so?'' (Achebe, 512) Jonathan and his family lost almost everything during the civil war. Now, when the war is over and the country should be at peace, they once again lose their most valuable possessions. The implication seems to be that there is really little difference in Nigeria during the civil war and after the civil war. In both times, lawlessness prevails with little hope for substantial improvement.

That a reader can find both optimistic and pessimistic, both earnest and cynical, messages within the text of a story as brief as ''Civil Peace'' should come as little surprise. The instability of a post-war period may easily engender ambiguity within all aspects of society and generate vastly different responses from those who live through it. Jonathan Iwegbu and the energetic hope with which he approaches the reconstruction of his life, combined with the undercurrent of insecurity inherent in Nigeria, represent a wide gamut of that country's experience. In a 1969 interview, Achebe declared, ''I believe it's impossible to write anything in Africa without some kind of commitment, some kind of message, some kind of protest." "Civil Peace'' is Achebe's protest against the anguish the Nigerian civil war has brought and his message of brighter hopes for the future. What it seems the author wants his audience to understand is the basic concept of human nature, While a person's culture certainly has an effect on our upbringing, people do not become who they are solely because of their culture or race (Webber, 1). People are shaped by various influences and their perceptions of such.