What techniques does Achebe use to characterize Michael Obi in "Dead Men's Path"? How does this characterization imply the ultimate failure of Obi's goals?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The author uses direct and indirect characterization to reveal Michael Obi's character to us.

Direct characterization:

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 less­-educated ones.

Here, Achebe tells us directly what Michael Obi is like. He is outspoken and harbors a progressive worldview regarding education. Michael is also well-educated and unafraid to criticize old traditions.

He was stoop­-shouldered and looked frail. But he sometimes surprised people with sudden bursts of physical energy. In his pre­sent posture, however, all his bodily strength seemed to have retired behind his deep­-set eyes, giving them an extraordinary power of penetration. He was only twenty­-six, but looked thirty or more. On the whole, he was not unhand­some.

Here, Achebe directly tells us what Michael Obi looks like and how he comes across to others. Michael's physique often belies the strength of his intellect and the degree of his commitment towards the modernization of the school system.

Indirect characterization:

"We shall make a good job of it, shan't we?" he asked his young wife when they first heard the joyful news of his promotion.

Through Michael's words, the author indirectly tells us that our protagonist is confident about his ability to institute change.

"All our colleagues are young and unmarried," he said with enthusiasm which for once she did not share. "Which is a good thing," he continued. "Why?" "Why? They will give all their time and energy to the school."

Here, the author indirectly tells us that Michael is intensely focused on precipitating changes in the district he has been assigned to. His words demonstrate his zeal and his expectation that the teachers who answer to him will unequivocally share his passion.

"It amazes me," said Obi to one of his teachers who had been three years in the school, "that you people allowed the villagers to make use of this foot­ path. It is simply incredible."

"But it will not be used now," said Obi as he walked away. "What will the Government Education Officer think of this when he comes to inspect the school next week? The villagers might, for all I know, decide to use the schoolroom for a pagan ritual during the inspection."

Here, Michael's words testify to his arrogance and intolerance. He is incredulous that the teachers have allowed what he considers backward practices to continue under their watch. Michael is openly contemptuous about the villagers' faith in their pagan religion, and he does not bother to hide his disdain. His arrogance and intolerance is directly responsible for the breakdown in communications between him and the village priest. Thus, the spoken words here imply the ultimate failure of Obi's goals.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chinua Achebe indirectly characterizes Michael Obi as an enthusiastic, progressive headmaster. Achebe develops Obi's character through his actions and comments. Initially, Obi is depicted as a positive man with good intentions, but he is later portrayed as a stubborn, unsympathetic individual. Achebe portrays Obi's outspoken personality and depicts how he condemns the older, less educated men in his field. Achebe also portrays Obi's affinity for modernity through his comments. Obi says, "We shall have such beautiful gardens and everything will be just modern and delightful..." (Achebe  1). Obi's "modern methods" transform the school and as he puts all his efforts into creating a new, aesthetic learning environment. Achebe further develops Obi's character by illustrating his reaction to the village priest. Michael Obi's true personality is depicted, and he is unsympathetic and rigid. He does not compromise or listen to Ani and decides to keep the path blocked. Obi's arrogance and stubborn attitude imply his ultimate failure. The next day the villagers vandalize his school after a woman dies during childbirth and the inspectors write a scathing review of Obi's intolerant character.

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Dead Men's Path

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