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Cultural Conflicts in Dead Men’s Path essay example
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Cultural Conflicts in Dead Men’s Path

Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian novelist acclaimed for his unsentimental depictions of the social and psychological disorientation accompanying the imposition of Western customs and values upon traditional African society. (Encyclopedia Britannica). Achebe’s novels focus on the traditional African values during and after the colonial era. He published a number of short stories, children’s books, and essay collections. The BBC wrote that he was “revered throughout the world for his depiction of life in Africa” (BBC). In “Dead Men’s Path” by Chinua Achebe (1974) the writer gives an example in the short story of the importance of balance in life.

Achebe presents the conflict between modern European ideas and traditional African values which occurred all over Africa in the years after World War . The main character, Mr. Obie, is an enthusiastic young headmaster. He has a grand vision of making his school a modern, exemplary, progressive institution and he does not have time for anything that he thinks does not connect with his vision (Figure 2). This presumptuous attitude leads him into conflict with the villagers whom he regards as backward and superstitious. Mr. Obi looks down on them instead of properly listening to them and trying to work with them.

The priest who comes to see him, points out the importance of being tolerant and says: “this path was here before you were born and before your father was born. The whole life of this village depends on it. Our dead relatives depart by it and our ancestors visit us by it. But most important, it is the path of children coming in to be born” (Achebe 46). Mr. Obi rejected the priest’s words and in mocking replied to him: “Dead men do not require footpath”(Achebe 46). He does not want to let the villagers use a path that is sacred to their beliefs, as it cuts across the new school grounds that he has designed.

The priest believes that Mr. Obi’s assumption could be true and said: “but we follow the practices of our fathers. If you reopen the path we shall have nothing to quarrel about. What I always say is: let the hawk perch and let the eagle perch” (Achebe 46). According to Innes, Achebe gives an example of the proverb: “let the hawk perch and let the eagle perch” that depicts “cultural experience which have formed the consciousness of the characters described” (Innes 11). I agree with Innes because in this short story thr priest teaches Mr. Obi how to live by society standers.

However, the path was blocked off by Obi and the villagers saw that as a sign of disrespect so they fight back take and their revenge by destroying the grounds. Therefore, Mr. Obie’s superior dismisses him from his job for his “misguided zeal” which has led to such problems with the local community. The main point no doubt in the story is in reference to the villager’s beliefs and customs and the importance it held in their lives. Mr. Obi was wrong in his thinking and in his methods, believing that he can just cut off the people from what in our time would be considered as religious superstitions.

An unfamiliar cultural belief may seem really weird, but to those who believe it, it is as much a vital as compliance with law. Our ancestor’s traditions and customs are important because it is the only knowledge we have on matters we have no proof on the things passed down for generations. Just as the story explained, the villagers were so strong in their beliefs of the path that when it became blocked, they attacked the school and everything that was blocking the sacred path:

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“The beautiful hedges were torn up not just near the path, but right around the school, flowers trampled… ne of the school buildings pulled down… ” (Achebe 46). The significance of a person’s culture is more than just the faith of a single soul, it connects a group of people who believe alike and allows them to work together with the same eventual outcomes. As stated in Achebe’s “Dead Men’s Path,” a contemporary community shouldn’t do as Obi and try to eradicate a person’s belief which, with his mocking reply to the priest is simply what he tried to do.

In this story, the people fought to keep the path free so that those who pass on can rest in peace and the customs of the villagers can carry on for generations to come, far beyond the lives of the priests, villagers and Obi (Figure3). Achebe deems that it is necessary to live with people in peace and harmony. Moreover, the author encourages people to ultimately see the opportunities and create their own lives by their own hands. As told Chinua Achebe to The Paris Review in 1994, “If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own” (Brooks).

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