Literary Analysis: Dead Men’s Path by Chinua Achebe

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Literary Analysis: Dead Men’s Path By Chinua Achebe

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While analyzing the literature work by Achebe, it is essential to examine the various situations that different characters underwent. In this regard, it is essential to investigate what made Michael excited of the appointment as the headmaster of the school and what happened later. From the story, it is clear that Obi Michael eagerly awaited this appointment to improve the standards of the school. Further, the conflict between Michael and the villagers is clear following their diverse beliefs. In fact, Michael could hardly understand or accept anything connected to the traditional believes that would deter him from making the progress of the school. From this instance the aspect of difference in belief is apparent. Nonetheless, while Michael is determined to ensure the growth of the school and very delighted to have a supportive wife the wife also finds the appointment as an opportunity for the husband to demonstrate the manner to run a school. At this juncture, the conflict between the modernity of the west and the tradition arises.

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The conflict between the traditions and modernity

While Obi is appointed as the head of the school, his wife feels insecure about the position at first due to the typical envy by the wives of their colleagues and loses hope. But obi recalls that the other members are unmarried. Obi express his confidence and excitement by saying, “all our colleagues are young and unmarried.” However, the wife not contented would want to know the significance of the marital status or how being unmarried would help them achieve their dream to prosper the community. It emerges that, being young and unmarried would make them devote all energies to the success of the school. Upon being questioned by the wife the significance of the marital status, Obi replies, “They will give all their time and energy to the school.” (Ogede, 69) The latter shows that the traditions and envy of others would make people not to attain their dreams. However, the western culture or the modernity depicts that people need to focus on their vision and not to be derailed by anything.

It emerges that, Obi Michael traces an old woman passing by the school via a seldom-used pathway. While amazed he queries one of his colleague teachers, “…you people allowed villagers to make use of this footpath. It is incredible.” (Ogede 72) While being apologetic, the other teacher replied that the footpath was crucial and sensitive to the community as it connected the shrine and the burial place for the elderly. Although Obi does not object, he is only concerned with how the footpath, the shrine and the cemetery are connected with education and school in that regard. The other teacher informs Michael that he also sometimes back closed the path but in vain. Obi affirms that the footpath would no longer be used. This instance marks one of the major instances where the theme of the story comes out clearly that Michael represents the modernity while other actors including the villagers and the other teachers are for the traditions. It emerges that fighting against the norms, cultures and believes is not easy. However, teachers are entitled to bring changes to the society and to enlighten people without fear of contradiction and to use strict measures of success (O'Flaherty et al. 47)

The colleague teacher remembers the level of conflict and tension that emerged during their first attempt to close the footpath. The adamant headmaster strictly says that the path must be closed forthwith. Obi questions the teacher on the reaction of the education officer during inspection trip. Obi is also disturbed if during the inspection some villagers would attempt to use one of the classrooms for their traditional rituals. From this portion, obi demonstrates his fear of people in authority while protecting the right (Derda 2). Also, the conversation shows a clear understanding modern understanding by Michael who distinguished himself from the traditions. He is seen to be fearing and would not in any way wish to be associated with the traditions, rituals or beliefs. While the conversation between Obi and the teacher about the footpath connecting to the cemetery reminds the colleague teacher of the possible outcomes of the traditions, Michael fears the awkward appearance of the school before the eyes of the educational officer. The conversation affirms that the villagers may not have embraced the education and the gospel but adhered to their traditions and their standard way of life without schools or formal education system.

To make his point clear, Obi ordered the footpath to be blocked using the locally available materials including long branches, logs, and barbed wires. In the real sense, the use of barbed wire would define modernity. The latter is an indication that, although the paths were traditionally blocked by use of branches, that was not enough in the contemporary world. Later after the blockage, Ani, a village priest appeared to the adamant headmaster and sought to know more about the closure of the ancestral footpath. The priest explained the importance of the footpath to the community. However, the headmaster insisted that the path must be closed while saying “We cannot allow people to make a highway of our school compound (Ogede 12).” Obi reiterated that the pathway was closed indefinitely. The priest reminded Obi that the path was too critical that the dead use it to depart from the earth and that the ancestors visit the villagers through the path. The headmaster informs the priest the primary objective of the school is to eradicate such believes and myths. The priest could not directly object to the Obi’s statements, but he acclaims that they only follow the practices of their forefathers telling the headmaster to reopen the path and end the quarrel.


The bottom line in the whole story is how traditions differ from the modern practices through education, religion and other forms of governance and social aspects. For instance, from the discussion between Obi and Ani the priest, it is apparent that the villagers only followed the practices of the ancestors while Michael wants to change their ideologies and perceptions of life.

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