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Dead Man

In: English and Literature

Submitted By joas
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Dead Men’s Path by Chinua Achebe


1) clash of cultures / acculturation
M. Obi is trapped between two worlds – the British and the African one- neither of which he understands or which really accept him. He is alienated from his tribal roots but not truly British either.
2) failure
Obi fails as headmaster and agent of modernization.
3) mimicry
He adopts and reproduces the colonizers’ cultural habits and values and becomes himself an agent of European modernization. In short M. Obi tries to be “more British” than the British (which the supervisor criticizes as a “misguided zeal” and) which results in a tribal war situation and Obi’s failure as headmaster.


Michael Obi is appointed to headmaster of Ndume Central School, an “unprogressive” school which he wants to modernize according to British standards. He and his wife want to turn the school compound into “a place of beauty” so they grow flowerbeds as is typical of English school compounds. One day an old woman from the village tramples straight through the hedges and flowerbeds they grow. Michael Obi finds out that a path crossing the compound connects the village shrine with the place of burial. However he dismisses this as primitive superstition and closes the path. When the village priest asks for the path to be re-opened, Obi doesn’t cooperate. Two days later a young woman dies in childbed and the next day one of the school buildings is pulled down and the hedges and flowerbeds are devastated by people from the tribe who believe the closure of the path was the reason for the woman’s death.
The very same day a white supervisor arrives to inspect the school and fins it in ruins. In his report he writes about a “tribal war” situation. So Obi failed as headmaster by trying to be too British”


- the story takes place in Eastern Nigeria in the 1950s, when Nigeria was under British rule → influence of colonial rule - School compound is the central setting of the story and a crossroads of cultures / contact zone where the tribal African and British cultures get in contact with each other


Michael Obi: - 26 year old Nigerian - regarded as talented and full of promise by colonizers - has an high standard of colonial education - his new position offers him the opportunity to become an agent of modernization - however he shows no respect for the villagers beliefs and traditions misses his chance to become a mediator between the two cultures

Nancy Obi: - supports her husband and shares his views - wants to bathe in her husband’s glory as successful modern headmaster - is convinced of European habits and lifestyle and thus helps grow the flowerbeds

The Ani:

- is the village priest - opposite of Michael (supports tribal values and traditions) - he shows a certain gentleness and willingness to compromise

Natives: - Believe in their tribal tradition and religion, destroy the school and the garden

Point of view
- flexible, third-person narrative which moves between the characters
- Achebe employs direct speech and irony

Questions :

- Explain the conflict of the short story! - Apply the terms “acculturation” and “mimicry” to the short story! - Compare M. Obi’s failure to the failure of characters in 3 other short stories of your choice (e.g.Conrad, Maugham,Lessing, Orwell)! - Compare the clash of cultures in Achebe’s text to that of Ngugi Wa Thing’o!

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