The texts "Dead Men's Path" and "Yellow Woman" have similar messages. Does the different time periods of the two stories change the message presented in the texts?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The time period of Achebe's "Dead Men's Path," set in Nigeria, is 1949, when the hero is appointed headmaster of a British colonial school for the Igbo people. The time period of Silko's "Yellow Woman," set in American Southwest Pueblo country, is 1974, the year in which the story was written. That makes a 25 year difference between the time periods of the stories. In normal circumstances, 25 five years will not materially alter the meaning of a similar message in texts. What might alter the meaning in so brief a time is the cultural background of the texts or the author's philosophical or ideological position. As it happens, though the cultures are different--Igbo tribe versus Pueblo Indian--the authors' philosohphical and ideological positions are enough alike that philosophy and ideology make no material alteration to the message of the texts either.

The message of "Yellow Woman" is that--even in a time period with education and "highways and pickup trucks"--tribal lore, mythology and mystical tribal stories have life-effecting importance and can overpower the sense of identity of tribal members, even educated ones. The heroine-narrator says that when she sees another person, as she and Silva walk along the river track, then she will know that she is not in truth Yellow Woman from the old stories. Her identity has been challenged by the invocation of a tribal story by real life events.

eventually I will see someone, ... and I will be sure that I am not Yellow Woman. Because she is from out of a time past and I live now and I've been to school and there are highways and pickup trucks ....

The message of "Dead Men's Path" is in essence the same. The old village priest with the walking-stick comes to tell newly installed and youthfully enthusiastic Headmaster Obi that it is imperative to village life that the path be reopened because it is the path to and from the spiritual domains that govern and rule village life. The message is that tribal mythology, religion, and mysticism has a life-effecting importance that can overpower and undermine the most vital aspects of village life. In proof of his proclamation about the need for the path, a woman in the village dies in childbirth because the spirit path remains blocked by order of the Headmaster.

"The whole life of this village depends on [that path]. 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...."

As a result, it is fair to say that though the stories are set about 25 years apart, the change in time period does not materially change the message of the texts and that, regardless of the change in time period and the different cultural orientation (Pueblo versus Igbo), the messages are essentially the same message: tribal truths are life-effecting, vital and important.

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Yellow Woman

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