What is the moral of the story, 'Dead Men's Path'?

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gpane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The moral, or lesson of this story is about the importance of striking a balance in life, of aiming for moderation - which the main character, Michael Obie, emphatically does not do. The moral of the story is shown in his downfall.

Obie, an idealistic, enthusiastic young headmaster, allows his idealism to run away with him. He has grand visions of making his school a modern, exemplary, progressive institution and he does not have time for anything that he thinks runs counter to his vision. This arrogant attitude leads him into conflict with the villagers whom he regards as backward and superstitious, and he looks down on them instead of properly listening to them and trying to work with them. The priest who comes to see him points out the importance of toleration:

What I always say is: let the hawk perch and let the eagle perch.

In other words, people should allow different ways and customs to exist side by side - which Obie is not prepared to do. He does not want to let the villagers use a path that is sacred to their beliefs, as it cuts across the new school grounds that he has designed. The villagers, rebuffed, take their revenge by destroying the grounds. In the face of this open conflict, Obie's superior dismisses him from his job for his 'misguided zeal' which has led to such problems in the local community.

Obie, then, is punished for his hubris, his 'misguided zeal'. There was nothing wrong with him wanting to improve his school, but he should have tried to co-operate with those whose views differed from his own, instead of forcefully implementing his own ideas over and above everyone else's.  

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chinua Achebe's short story, Michael Obi attempts to modernize the Ndume School and turn it into a European-style learning institution. The energetic and rigid headmaster attempts to reform the traditional school and begins by blocking the villagers' ancestral footpath, which runs through the school's grounds. When the local priest informs Michael Obi of the footpath's traditional and spiritual significance, Obi dismisses the priest's concerns and declares that their beliefs are superstitious. Two days later, a young woman dies giving birth, and the villagers believe it is because the footpath had been blocked. The following morning, Michael Obi awakens to discover that his beautiful flowers have been destroyed and one of the school buildings has been pulled down. That same day, a white Supervisor inspects Michael's school and writes a "nasty report," indicating that a "tribal-war-situation" is developing between the school and the village.

The moral of the story is that one should respect other cultures, customs, and traditions, regardless of personal beliefs or views. Achebe also illustrates that traditional customs and practices should not be suppressed by dominant cultures. Achebe suggests that differing cultures should peacefully coexist, instead of trying to eradicate and replace one another. Through Michael Obi's character, Achebe also implies that sympathy and perspective are more important attributes to have than personal zeal and determination.