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“Dead Men’s Path” by Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe’s “Dead Men’s Path” demonstrates the conflicts between European values and the traditional Ndume culture. Michael Obi, who came to the village as a headmaster of the school, aimed to cultivate modern values for local youngsters. However, when he refused to open the holy footpath, the villagers ruined the beautiful school ground, placing him in a difficult situation. This essay claims that the focalizer at the final scene of the story is Michael Obi and examines the importance of the scene.

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The difference between narration and focalization is that the latter limits a reader’s perception and perspective to a focalizing agent, while the former narrates the story. Michael Obi is a focalizer in the final scene due to the tone of the character and the words describing the setting of the scene. In his response to the local priest Obi seems polite and gentle by apologizing and offering help to build another footpath. He stated that “we can even get our boys to help in building it”, using the pronounce “we” to show that he is not the only one in charge of the anti-footpath decision (Achebe 133). Moreover, the headmaster is described as “young” to justify his action with a lack of experience in tackling cultural issues. The line, “Obi woke up next morning among the ruins of his work” demonstrates the villagers as barbarians that were cruel to the headmaster (133). Additionally, the school was described as “beautiful” making the action of villagers even worse, as they destroyed such a nice building. Therefore, readers are more likely to be on the side of Obi while reading the final scene.

By looking at how the headmaster responded to the priest and how Obi and the setting were described, it is evident that Obi is a focalizing agent. Indeed, Achebe writes the story in a way to allow readers to decide by themselves whom they will support. Readers can understand both the headmaster’s point of view and the villagers’. The final scene demonstrates that negotiation between two cultures is not reachable due to the complicated nature of the dispute.

The headmaster was educated in the West and had a clear goal to promote modern values to the villagers. The local population was intended to study and ready to negotiate with a new headmaster, however, the final scene depicts that Obi did not believe in Ndume religious traditions. It is a crucial part of the story as it also shows how white supervisors were not interested to understand the problems of colonial countries. A white supervisor made the problem even worse by calling it as “tribal war between the school and the villagers” (133). It seems that Achebe’s motive to write such an end of the story was to convince readers that colonialists did not care about the situation in the colonial territories.

Michael Obi, in the final scene, was betrayed by the representer of the European values, which, ironically, Obi promoted and defended throughout the story. Here, the scene illustrates that Obi truly believed that bringing “modern” and “civilized” values to the local population was the right decision. Achebe challenges his decision, showing that the headmaster did not consider difficulties associated with cultural changes. The final episode is critical to make readers rethink their attitude on modern values. It also questions the changes made by the colonial powers. Is the European or so-called “modern” thinking better than the traditional one? Moreover, the ethical issue of transforming cultural beliefs of the indigenous population to what is accepted as “civilized” is rising.

While reading the final scene, it seems that entering an established culture of a community is detrimental for the one who came to make changes. However, the question of should the cultures remain as they are and not be altered emerges when finishing the story. As it can be seen, the final part is extremely significant as it brings questions and reconsideration of values for readers. It also shows the importance of cultural dialogue when interacting with a new culture. A professional should understand how to politely negotiate with the local community and respect their traditions and religious beliefs. Achebe tries to illustrate how the crisis between cultures can affect both sides. There is no winning side, both were hurt and offended.

To conclude, “Dead Men’s Path” of Achebe illustrates the cultural dispute between European and traditional values. A focalizing agent at the final part of the story was Michael Obi, who attempted to prevent the holy footpath of Ndume culture. He is an agent due to his tone and words used to describe him and the setting. The final scene is critical to the whole story as it demonstrates the ethical issues associated with colonial education. Moreover, it illustrates the neglected approach of white supervisors to the problems of the local population. The scene reveals many questions relating to whether cultures should be transformed or remain untouchable. It also points out Achebe’s intention to leave readers alone with their thoughts on European and traditional values.

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Work Cited

Achebe, “Dead Men’s Path,” The Broadview Introduction to Literature, 2nd edition., Broadview Press, 2018.

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