The Dead Men’s Path by Chinua Achebe

“Dead Men’s Path” via Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian author, is a story of how conflict of cultural values occurs between the old Igbo Nigerian traditions and westernized Christianity ideologies. The story is set in 1949 which is a illustration of the period when traditional cultural are still robust in Nigeria and a time when education and Christian values are trying to be instilled to the natives. This essay will explore the placing (mood, time, and location) and how it supports the theme of the story.
The story takes place in an Igbo village in Nigeria where usual cultural values are deep-rooted. Michael is an enthusiastic teacher sent to an underperforming school in the rural Nigeria. Determined to succeed in converting 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 give a sense of historical time in Nigeria. Around 1945, Nigeria was still under colonialism, and the faint path shows that cultural disruptions that have occurred within that time. However, the author tries to show that despite the disruption people are still holding on their cultures. Michael is signifying a colonial change that was apparent in Nigeria and the rest of Africa within that time.

The theme of the story is that of cultural conflict between the traditional Igbo Nigerian cultures and the modern cultures introduced by the European Colonialists (Gale 1). Achebe shows that you cannot take away something someone loves and expect to find an easy way out. The author creates a good setting for the story since it is in the late 1940s where the villagers believed in a path for the dead and for the ancestors (superstitions). 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. Through opposing the superstitions Michael represent a change that is not acceptable by the people. This supports the theme of cultural conflict as Mike tries opposing the cultures of the people.

Michael and the priest conflict on cultural matters and the priest representing the old cultures lacks words to say to him. Michael is obviously very young and enthusiastic as shown when he says “what a grand opportunity we’ve got…” (Kennedy 188). Due to his young age, his is ignorant, and he represents new cultures 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) which shows the beliefs that were present at that time in small villages and shows how old the priest is. This meant that the cultures existed long before the introduction of the new cultures and they 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) where he describes the old priest walking and creates a good representative image for the priest’s age. This is a powerful tool that the author uses to convey a representative image of the story to the reader.

Cultural conflicts and ignorance are the main themes in 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. It is through ignorant actions that cultural conflicts exist. 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.

Works Cited

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.

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