Chinua Achebe was born in an eastern Nigerian village. His father was a missionary and he had a Christian childhood. He attended the London University and then went on to University College of Ibadan. Achebe was able to see Nigeria becoming independent from England after he returned home. These two conflicting worlds influenced Achebe’s story. The story takes place in a small village that is constantly at war with the headmaster over control issues. Because small villages are more likely than more progressive ones to retain traditional values, it is crucial that the story be set in a small village. Michael Obi attempted to revolutionize his village with similar efforts as centuries of Christian missionaries. Without the right tools and attitude, he loses to the formidable beast that is tradition. Achebe, in his exploration of symbolisms, point of views, and characterization, argues that prosperity can’t be achieved when others’ beliefs aren’t treated with respect.
The story reveals that nature is just as at war with its own people as it is with the people. Michael Obi is trying to make the school’s garden a symbol of modernity. The garden is built around an old footpath. This is contrary to the garden’s original’modern values. Obi views the path as “faint,” “almost unusable” but in reality it is sacred to the people. It represents all the values that the newcomer can control, and the values the village tries to keep. For someone who wants to change it, the path is insignificant. But the garden is magnificent. Both are unwilling to allow the other their space and instead try to hinder. The garden and footpath are not fully functional. Michael Obi, who is the new headmaster of the school, is the protagonist of the story. The reader sees the story through his eyes and can understand why he wants to bring “a high quality of teaching” to the school and transform it into a “place of beauty.” He is not just a villain who invades villages and attempts to destroy what they hold dear. Because they believe the footpath is essential for village life, we are able both to sympathize and to show sympathy for Obi. Obi believes that education, modernization, and a willingness to share his parents’ superstitions is the best way to assist the people of the village. His genuine intentions are marred by his unwillingness to learn from others. Instead, he dismissed it and said that he would “show them how a school should operate” because of the failures in their current management. For everyone, it is stubbornness that results in harsh consequences, especially for himself. His superior gave him a harsh review, which was cruel punishment for his ignorance. Obi was made more sympathetic by Achebe who wanted people understanding the logic behind some Obi’s actions. Achebe’s most important audience are those who can identify and support Obi in his brave efforts. Anyone who aspires to follow the same path as Obi should be warned by the illustration of Obi’s dreams being literally crushed.
Michael Obi was responsible for much of the conflict that resulted from the destruction or desecrations of sacred and private property. Michael Obi’s perception of village life is not conducive to either group’s growth. He arrives believing that “The entire point of our School is to eradicate just these beliefs” and that this is what he is doing. However, he is actually stealing a piece from a culture. This is why he dismisses any possibility of a cooperative effort between the villagers. He is blinded by the humanity of the people he is supposed help. His initial assessment of “Ndume school was backward in all senses of the world” blinds his perception of how the school works. He was a young, stubborn and determined man who tried to guide these people to the right way of living. This insensitivity leads the villagers defend their beliefs with force. “A young woman from the village was killed in her childbed after the path was blocked.” One of the local diviners was immediately called and recommended that heavy sacrifices be made to the fence’s ancestors to restore balance. Obi ignores all attempts to reach peace or appeal for wisdom from others and continues his march, leaving no one satisfied, even himself.
“Dead Men’s Path”, while a mirroring of Achebe’s own experiences and those shared by many others throughout the history European colonization, is in some ways a reflection of Achebe’s. Wars have been fought over religions and ideologies in history, and they will continue for many more years. There will never exist a true winner. If different cultures fail to seek mutual understanding, even if the issue is small, there will be no real world change. If this effort is neglected, people will continue trample on each another’s gardens and block their footpaths with barbedwire.