The Importance of Five Heads: “Civil Peace” by Chinua Achebe
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In “Civil Peace” by Chinua Achebe, the author illustrates the life of Jonathan Iwegbu immediately after a long and bloody civil war. Jonathan, the protagonist of the story, counts himself extra-ordinarily lucky because he and his family survive the war with their five heads in their respected places. Along with his family, Jonathan is able to keep a bicycle. Jonathan begins to use his bicycle to create a taxi business and starts to save money. After saving a small fortune, Jonathan travels to his former home in Enugu and finds yet another miracle. His home is still standing. After getting settled in their home again, Jonathan learns the new treasury began to exchange former rebel currency with new currency.
The night that Jonathan exchanged his money, a group of thieves gathered outside his family’s door, and began pounding on it, demanding his money. Jonathan shouted for help with no luck. Finally, Jonathan gave the thieves the money they demanded and they left. The next day Jonathan tells his neighbors “I count it as nothing” (43), referring to the money that was stolen. The fact that he had his family and they were together was enough satisfaction for him. Through the character of Jonathan, Achebe focuses on the importance of family and new opportunities to rebuild rather than the hardships and devastation of the aftermath of war.
It is immediately apparent that Jonathan is a dynamic and resourceful character. Every obstacle thrown at him he learns from. When he needs to make money for his family (his five heads) he turns his bicycle into a taxi company. Jonathan is also very street smart. As he exchanges his money at the Treasury he puts it in his hand in his left pocket so he would leave “his right free for shaking hands as the need arise, though by fixing his gaze as such an elevation as to miss all approaching human faces he made sure that the need did not arise, until he got home” (44) so that he would not be robed. He shows his roundness and optimism at almost every turn in the story. Even as the thieves take his money from his petrified family, he replies that “nothing puzzles God” (46), and begins to get ready for work the next day. He considers the life of his five heads and the opportunity to replace what was lost more important than losing everything over money.
The key conflict in “Civil Peace” is Jonathan’s decision to give the money to the thieves. The conflict in this story builds in three stages, peaking at the crisis moment on page 44 when the thieves visit Jonathans home. This is important because it helps the reader understand why the thieves are coming for Jonathan and his money. Jonathan faces the internal conflict of giving up the money he and his families had worked so hard for, or to fight back and risk losing everything including his precious five heads. After exhausting all means of getting help and realizing there were no police or neighbors to come to his aid, he gives the thieves the money they demand and saves his five heads. This action reflects Jonathan’s value in the importance of family.
Through the character of Jonathan, Achebe focuses on the importance of family and new opportunities to rebuild rather than the hardships and devastation of the aftermath of war. Although he and his family had worked so hard for the money the thieves stole, they could always do it again. Jonathan makes it clear that one cannot put a value on family and with drive and determination you can obtain those tangible things that make life more comfortable can be obtained.