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Michael Obi, the anti-hero in Dead Men’s Path, is introduced as a “young and energetic” newly appointed headmaster of Ndume Central School. The school is known for being “unprogressive” and “backward in every sense.” Highly ambitious and zealous, the twenty-six year old young man joins the school with two aims:
“A high standard of teaching was insisted upon, and the school compound was to be turned into a place of beauty.”
Until now Obi stands as an admirable man with a progressive and modern outlook. But there’s something about him that prevents readers from appreciating him wholly as an ideal young man of the modern era.
“His condemnation of the narrow views of these older and often less educated ones,” and his denigration of "old and superannuated people in the teaching field who would be better employed as traders in the Onitsha market," make us suspicious about his real character. These descriptions considerably hint at the tension about to build up.
What marks the turning point is Obi’s discovery of “an almost disused path from the village across the school compound.” The path connects the village with the graveyard. For the villagers the path occupies a very special place in their lives. It’s their strong belief that this path has been used by their dead for ages. According to them, not only do their ancestors visit them using this path, but “it is the path of children coming in to be born.”
Although the ancestral path is hardly used, Obi is outraged learning about its existence through the school premises. He immediately gets it blocked by fencing it. This makes the villagers uneasy and the old priest from the village arrives at the school to meet Obi in person. The tension begins to mount further and the clash appears inevitable.
Prior to their meeting we are already informed that once there had been a “big row” when the school authorities had tried to block the path. On one side is the old priest who is carrying a stout stick. His calm and composed manners reflect his experience and wisdom. His sole intention is to sort out the matter, avoiding any kind of violence.
On the other side is the inflexible and insensitive headmaster, to whom the villagers’ attachment to the path is a mere superstitious and irrational belief. While the composed old man tries to persuade the adamant Obi to reopen the path for the villagers, Obi scorns the old man and his beliefs and refuses to budge.
The final statement by the priest, “I have no more words to say,” rings out aloud and takes the action of the story to its climax. This is the point of the highest tension in the story. At this point a reader is completely hooked and he reads further only to discover the final outcome of the clash between tradition and modernity.
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