Analysis of “Dead Man’s Path” by Chinua Achebe

About the Author

Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian novelist, poet, and critic. He was born in Eastern Nigeria in 1930 and died in 2013. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential African writers of the 20th century and is often considered the “father of African literature.”

Achebe is best known for his first novel, “Things Fall Apart,” which was published in 1958 and has since become a classic of African literature. The novel is set in the late 19th century and tells the story of a traditional Igbo society impacted by the arrival of European colonizers.

In addition to “Things Fall Apart,” he wrote several other novels, essays, and poems, including “No Longer at Ease,” “Arrow of God,” and “A Man of the People.” His works often address the themes of African identity, colonialism, and Africa’s cultural and political legacy.

Summary of “Dead Man’s Path

“Dead Man’s Path” is a short story by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. The story revolves around Michael Obi, a young and idealistic headmaster who takes over running a small primary school in a rural village. Michael is eager to change the school and bring in modern ideas, but he soon realizes that his vision is at odds with the traditional beliefs of the village.

At the story’s start, Michael is full of energy and enthusiasm for his new role. He sets about reorganizing the school and introducing new methods of teaching. However, he soon encounters opposition from the villagers, who are deeply attached to their traditional ways and are suspicious of the new headmaster’s modern ideas.

The primary source of conflict in the story is the path that runs through the village cemetery, which Michael decides to close down. He believes the path is hazardous to the children and wants to keep them safe. However, the villagers see the path as a vital connection between the living and the dead and are deeply offended by Michael’s decision to close it.

Despite the villagers’ protests, Michael remains resolute in his decision and refuses to listen to their concerns. He even goes so far as to tear down the fence that marks the boundary of the cemetery, which is seen as a major affront to the spirits of the dead.

The consequences of Michael’s actions soon become apparent as the villagers begin to experience a series of misfortunes. A baby is stillborn, crops fail, and people fall ill. The villagers believe that these events result from the dead’s spirits being disturbed by the path’s closure, and they see Michael’s actions as the cause of their suffering.

In the end, Michael realizes the error of his ways and decides to reopen the path. He also makes a symbolic gesture of reconciliation by laying a wreath on the stillborn baby’s grave.

“Dead Man’s Path” is a powerful story that explores the themes of tradition, change, and the consequences of cultural conflict. Achebe uses the story to highlight the importance of respecting the beliefs and customs of others and the dangers of imposing one’s own ideas and values on others without considering their perspectives and feelings.

The story revolves around the protagonist, Michael Obi, a young and idealistic schoolteacher. Obi has recently been appointed as the headmaster of a rural school, and he is eager to make a difference in the lives of the students and the community. However, he soon realizes that his efforts to bring change and modernization to the school are met with resistance and misunderstanding.

Analysis of “Dead Man’s Path

The story brilliantly presents a cultural clash between the traditional and the modern. Obi represents the modern and educated elite who believe in the importance of modernization and progress. He is shocked that the rural community, including the students and their families, is deeply rooted in their traditional beliefs and practices. For example, when Obi tries to build a new path through the school’s compound, he encounters opposition from the villagers who believe that the path will disturb the spirits of their ancestors.

The conflict between Obi and the villagers highlights the lack of understanding and communication between the two cultures. Obi cannot comprehend the significance of traditional beliefs and practices, and the villagers cannot see the benefits of modernization. This cultural divide creates a communication barrier between the two groups, leading to a growing sense of frustration and animosity.

Another significant theme in the story is the power dynamics between the characters. Obi is the headmaster and is, therefore, in a position of authority over the students and the community. However, he cannot exert his power effectively because he lacks an understanding of the cultural and social dynamics of the community. On the other hand, the villagers can resist Obi’s attempts to bring change, demonstrating their own power and agency.

The narrative structure of “Dead Man’s Path” also contributes to the story’s overall themes. The narrative is told from an omniscient point of view, which allows the reader to understand the motivations and perspectives of both Obi and the villagers. This creates a sense of sympathy and empathy towards both characters, making it easier for the reader to understand the story’s cultural divide and power dynamics.


In conclusion, “Dead Man’s Path” is a powerful story that explores themes of cultural conflict, communication, power dynamics, and modernization. Through its portrayal of the character of Michael Obi and his interactions with the rural community, the story provides a nuanced examination of the challenges and complexities of cultural differences and the difficulty of bridging cultural gaps. Chinua Achebe’s vivid imagery and omniscient point of view make “Dead Man’s Path” a thought-provoking and memorable story that encourages the reader to consider the importance of cultural understanding and communication.

Suggested Readings

What Influenced Chinua Achebe to Write Things Fall Apart?

Analysis of “A Quoi Bon Dire” by Charlotte Mew

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