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Chinua Achebe and Rudolfo Anaya, two renowned authors, explore the journeys of individuals who must confront adversity and challenges in their lives. In both Achebe's "Civil Peace" and Anaya's "Bless Me, Ultima," the central characters grapple with both internal and external conflicts. A recurring theme in both narratives is the notion that everyone faces conflicts and struggles, but it is their ability to overcome and make the best of their situations that defines their character. This theme is eloquently expressed through the characters' thoughts, the use of symbolism, and their personal experiences.
In Rudolfo Anaya's "Bless Me, Ultima," the main character, Antonio, embarks on a transformative journey filled with numerous obstacles within the span of a single summer. Throughout this season of growth, Antonio is repeatedly confronted with death in its various forms. He must navigate the emotional toll of losing a stranger, a family friend, and two close friends. Despite these trials, Antonio exhibits remarkable resilience and strength.
Antonio's encounters with death are emotionally taxing. He mourns the loss of a dear friend, a memory etched in his mind: "the lonely river was a sad place to be when one is a small boy who has just seen a friend die" (Anaya, 231). The profound impact of death on Antonio's young psyche is evident as he grapples with the stark reality of mortality.
Furthermore, Antonio bears witness to the death of Lupito, a fellow townsperson, even though he did not have a personal connection with the man: "I saw Lupito lifted off his feet and hurled backward by the bullets" (Anaya, 20).
This experience underscores the sobering effect of death, regardless of one's familiarity with the deceased.
Amidst these trials, Antonio faces the departure of his brothers, who return from war only to leave again. He ponders whether he will ever truly understand his brothers or if they will remain elusive figures in his life: "I wondered if I would ever really know my brothers, or would they remain but phantoms of my dreams" (Anaya, 178). Despite the challenges he encounters, Antonio manages to maintain a positive outlook and continue moving forward.
Antonio's resilience is particularly striking when viewed through the lens of his gratitude. He finds solace and blessings in the seemingly ordinary aspects of life. For instance, he considers himself blessed for emerging from the war with his head intact, as well as the heads of his wife, Maria, and three out of their four children: "He had come out of the war with five inestimable blessings—his head, his wife Maria's head, and the heads of three of their four children" (Achebe, 358). Antonio's perspective serves as a poignant reminder of the transformative power of gratitude.
Furthermore, Antonio cherishes his old bicycle as a miraculous possession: "As a bonus he also has his old bicycle—a miracle too…" (Achebe, 359). In a world where material possessions often take precedence, Antonio's ability to find wonder and appreciation in the simplest of things is a testament to his strength.
Another example of Antonio's resilience is his reaction to the damaged house he and his family acquire: "The newest miracle was his little house in Ogui Overside… Of course, the doors and windows were missing, and five sheets of the roof" (Achebe, 359). Despite the house's dilapidated state, Antonio regards it as yet another blessing. His ability to perceive the silver lining in adversity underscores the theme of resilience present in the narrative.
Jonathan Iwegbu, the central character in Chinua Achebe's "Civil Peace," also grapples with adversity, albeit in a vastly different context. Having endured a devastating three-year war, Jonathan emerges from the conflict with unwavering faith and resilience. His story highlights the transformative effect of faith and gratitude in the face of adversity.
Jonathan's unwavering faith in the midst of hardship is evident when he reflects on the blessings he and his family still possess: "He had come out of the war with five inestimable blessings—his head, his wife Maria's head, and the heads of three of their four children" (Achebe, 358). These blessings, which might appear trivial to some, serve as a source of profound gratitude for Jonathan.
Jonathan's resilience extends to his ability to find value in possessions that others might dismiss. His old bicycle, for example, is regarded as a "miracle" (Achebe, 359). In a world where scarcity is the norm, Jonathan's appreciation for the simple act of owning a bicycle underscores his capacity to confront challenges with optimism.
Similarly, Jonathan's reaction to his damaged house reveals his unwavering spirit: "The newest miracle was his little house in Ogui Overside… Of course, the doors and windows were missing, and five sheets of the roof" (Achebe, 359). Rather than dwelling on the house's imperfections, Jonathan focuses on the miracle of having shelter in a post-war landscape.
Antonio's and Jonathan's thoughts and actions exemplify resilience and determination. They refuse to be defeated by their circumstances and instead draw strength from adversity. Jonathan, in the aftermath of a robbery, utters words that encapsulate his unwavering spirit: "Let it go where everything else has gone. Nothing puzzles God" (Achebe, 364). His response reflects a profound sense of faith and acceptance, even in the face of loss.
Antonio echoes a similar sentiment as he reflects on the trials of his summer: "The rest of the summer was good for me, good in a sense that it was filled with its richness, and I made strength from everything that had happened to me, so that in the end even the final tragedy could not defeat me" (Anaya, 237). Antonio's ability to derive strength from adversity encapsulates the theme that both narratives share: the idea that challenges and struggles, instead of breaking them, ultimately make Antonio and Jonathan stronger individuals.
In conclusion, both "Bless Me, Ultima" by Rudolfo Anaya and "Civil Peace" by Chinua Achebe explore the theme of resilience and strength in the face of adversity. Antonio and Jonathan, the central characters in these narratives, navigate a series of challenges and losses with unwavering determination. Their ability to find strength in the midst of adversity, appreciate the blessings in their lives, and confront fear serves as a powerful testament to the human spirit.
These stories remind us that adversity is an inevitable part of life, but it is our response to it that defines our character. Both Antonio and Jonathan choose to persevere, finding the inner strength to endure and overcome their struggles. Their stories inspire us to adopt a similar outlook, appreciating life's blessings and confronting fear with courage.
In a world filled with uncertainties and challenges, the resilience displayed by these characters serves as a poignant reminder that, indeed, what doesn't break us makes us stronger. As we navigate our own journeys, we can draw inspiration from Antonio and Jonathan, learning that even in the darkest of times, there is room for hope, faith, and unwavering determination.
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