‘Dead Men’s Path’ by Chinua Achebe

Dead Men’s Path by Chinua Achebe, 1953

The magic trick:

Seeming to connect dots for the reader but in actuality leaving the conclusion up to interpretation

We have a Chinua Achebe weekend double for you.

This is a particularly remarkable story. One of those that frames one of the world’s great debates in two-and-a-half pages.

The debate in question is one that Flannery O’Connor would return to time and time again: the generational divide as a region and culture fundamentally shifts from the old ways to the new ways.

A young man is excited for the chance to remake what he considers to be a “backwards” school in what he considers to be a modern, enlightened way. This plan clashes immediately with an old village priest.

The young man slides comfortably into what feels like an almost-cliched role: the overconfident youngster who is about to get his comeuppance.

And the plot seems to sense this too, because it isn’t long before he gets his almost-cliched humbling.

Or did he?

This is a very clever story.

The reader is left to interpret the ending as they wish; left to fight through the cliches and buy in or ignore.

And that’s quite a trick on Achebe’s part.

The selection:

Michael Obi’s hopes were fulfilled much earlier than he had expected. He was appointed headmaster of Ndume Central School in January 1949. It had always been an unprogressive school, so the Mission authorities decided to send a young and energetic man to run it. Obi accepted this responsibility with enthusiasm. He had many wonderful ideas and this was an opportunity to put them into practice. He had had sound secondary school education which designated him a “pivotal teacher” in the official records and set him apart from the other headmasters in the mission field. He was outspoken in his condemnation of the narrow views of these older and often less­educated ones.


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