Dead Men’s Road by Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian poet, explains how a clash in cultural principles has emerged between the old Igbo Nigerian traditions and the westernized philosophy of Christianity. The tale is set in 1949, a time when the traditional culture was still high in Nigeria, though education and Christian ideals were instilled in the natives. This essay would discuss the context (memory, time, and location) and how the theme of the narrative is supported.
The plot takes place in Igbo, a Nigerian village with deep-rooted traditional cultural traditions. Michael is an enthusiastic teacher who was sent to an underperforming school in rural Nigeria. Striving to convert the learners and the people to Christianity, he ends up creating a cultural conflict between Christianity and traditionalists. The use of the school as the setting plays a significant role in supporting the theme because the school is supposed to change people, but ends up creating chaos.
The story is set in the late 1940s, and the faint signs of the old path that has not been used for a while, giving a sense of historical time in Nigeria. Around 1945, Nigeria was still under colonialism, and the faint path shows the cultural disruptions of that time. However, the author tries to show that regardless of the disruption, people are still holding on their cultures. Michael is signifying a colonial change that was apparent in Nigeria and in the rest of Africa within that time.
The theme of the story is cultural conflict between the traditional Igbo Nigerian cultures and the modern cultures introduced by the European Colonialists (Gale 1). Achebe shows that one cannot take away something that someone loves and expect to find an easy way out. The author creates a good setting for the story since the villagers believed in a path for the dead and for the ancestors (superstitions) in the late 1940s. At that the time, education was changing and science was developing. Michael thought that the path was a great example to teach the students at the new school that superstitions do not exist. Opposing the superstitions, Michael represented a change that was not acceptable by the people, which supports the theme of cultural conflict
Michael and the priest argued on cultural matters, with the priest representing the old culture and lacking the words to answer. Michael is obviously very young and enthusiastic as shown when he says “what a grand opportunity we’ve got…” (Kennedy 188). He is ignorant, which represents the new culture introduced by the colonialists. When he tries to ignore the old culture, the priest warns him, “This path was here before you were born…” (Kennedy 189). This meant that the cultures existed long before the introduction of the new cultures and would continue to exist.
Additionally, the author was able to provide some sensory images using touch words such as “Heavy sticks were planted…” (Kennedy 189), creating a good representative image for the priest’s age and manner of walking. This is a powerful tool that the author used to convey a representative image of the story to the reader.
Cultural conflicts and ignorance are the main themes of the story. Chinua Achebe shows that failing to understand and appreciate other cultures can result in unwanted conflicts. The setting of the story played an imperative role of indicating the cause of cultural conflicts. Cultural conflicts exist due to ignorant actions. The timing of the story was essential in showing the audience that western cultures were a foreign thing to the Nigerian community during the period of colonization.
Gale, Cengage L. Study Guide for Chinua Achebe’s “dead Man’s Path.”. Detroit: Gale, Cengage Learning, n.d.. Print.
Kennedy, X. J., and Dana Gioia. Backpack literature: an introduction to fiction, poetry, drama, and writing. Boston: Pearson, 2016. Print.