Chinua Achebe’s Dead Men’s Path p177 q4&5

4.   The significance of the title to Chinua Achebe’s Dead Men’s Path is twofold. Obviously, it can be argued that the title simply highlights the key plot device found within the short story. However, the titular Dead Men’s Path could also be used to describe the perennially fruitless quarrel between the traditional Africa and the more modern Africa, with the factions represented symbolically by the village priest of Ani and Mr. Obi, respectively.

     Firstly, the village priest of Ani is depicted by Mr. Obi as a helplessly backwards man, and Obi is so sure of it, that he “listened with a satisfied smile on his face” as the village priest explains what he sees as an intrusion on the villages religious rites (176). While the priest is clearly traditional in the sense that he is an animist believing that dead and unborn travel on a footpath, he is not written as perfectly wise and sagely stock character. Instead, Achebe makes the priest arrogantly destroy the property of the school when he superstitiously believes the child of a woman “in childbed” is blood on the hands of Mr. Obi.

    Dually, the Achebe also paints the Obis background to illustrate how the collision of two radically different ideologies creates perpetually pointless conflict in Africa. Obi is at first suitably described as a hopeful, energetic young man (174) who seeks to correct the “narrow views of these older and often less-educated ones [presumably Nigerians]” (175). However, a glaringly negative description of Mr. Obi comes in the form of Achebe’s rightful insult toward his dolt wife, Nancy, who is concerned with nothing more than being the “admired wife of the young headmaster, [and] the queen of the school” (175). The narrator also claims that Nancy has been “infected” by Mr. Obi’s lust for modernity and the “denigration” of tradition, which shows that neither the radically modern and supposedly progressive Obis nor the bitter village priests of real-life Africa are presently ready to come together and discuss these matters with civility (175).

5.   Perhaps the greatest irony contained in Dead Men’s Path is simply the fact that the two contrasting factions of Africa (and indeed many other place, such as India), the fundamentalist and conservative Old or the tactlessly “progressive” and morally empty-headed New are realistically perceived as defensively stubborn and in denial while both schools of thought are utterly wrong at times.