In "Dead Men's Path," what is Obi’s two-fold ambition regarding his academic position?

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In Chinua Achebe's "Dead Men's Path," Michael Obi is presented as an ambitious and intelligent young man. When he is appointed as headmaster at the backward Ndume School, he is excited for the opportunity to use his talents to better the children of the area. According to the text, "He had two aims. A high stan­dard of teaching was insisted upon, and the school compound was to be turned into a place of beauty."

One of the first things that we learn in the short story about Michael Obi is his role as a "pivotal teacher" in other schools. Therefore, it is not surprising that he would want to continue the legacy of quality teaching that he himself adhered to when he was a teacher. He even says to his wife that he hopes the teachers won't be married so that they will dedicate more time to their work rather than worrying about their families. Once there, he does work to establish both of these goals by forming relationships with the teachers and doing things around the school property, such as planting beautiful flora. Although both of these goals seem positive, his second aim is what sparks the central conflict of the story. Because he wants the school property to be pristine, he becomes offended about the villager's use of the ancient path.

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Chinua Achebe says that Michael Obi had two aims as headmaster of Ndume School: to maintain a high standard of teaching, and to turn the school compound into "a place of beauty." The local people's use of the footpath violates both these objectives. Most obviously, it interferes with the landscaping of the compound, since the path leads through flower-beds and hedges. More conceptually, the idea of dead men and unborn children requiring a footpath seems to Obi a perfect example of the irrational superstition he wants to combat in Ndume. He arrogantly tells the village priest that it is the school's duty to teach the children that they should laugh at such ideas.

Michael Obi's objectives are both perfectly reasonable and even noble. What is unreasonable is his inflexibility. The compound could still be a place of beauty with a footpath running through it. A high standard of teaching is clearly possible without telling children that they ought to treat their parents' religious beliefs with contempt. Indeed, this confrontational and intolerant attitude would undoubtedly have caused trouble for Obi even without a specific conflict over the footpath. Michael Obi's downfall is the product not of his aims and ideals, but of his lack of flexibility in pursuing them.

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