Dead Men's Path Summary

"Dead Men's Path" examines the conflict between European values and traditional Ndume beliefs.

  • Michael Obi and his wife move to Ndume, where he has been appointed headmaster of a small school. He intends to reform the school based on European values and strengthen its Christian mission.

  • Michael becomes offended when he sees a local woman walk a path through the school gardens and is dismissive of the villagers' attempts to explain the path's spiritual significance. Michael orders the ceremonial path be fenced off with barbed wire.

  • In response, the villagers destroy the school's carefully maintained gardens, resulting in Michael being fired.

Summary

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Last Updated on June 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 229

At the beginning of the story, a twenty-six-year-old zealous man named Michael Obi becomes the headmaster of the Ndume Central School. He is portrayed as an extremely intolerant man who wishes to eradicate traditional beliefs and customs while simultaneously promoting "modern methods." Michael Obi views the local villagers with contempt...

(The entire section contains 541 words.)

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At the beginning of the story, a twenty-six-year-old zealous man named Michael Obi becomes the headmaster of the Ndume Central School. He is portrayed as an extremely intolerant man who wishes to eradicate traditional beliefs and customs while simultaneously promoting "modern methods." Michael Obi views the local villagers with contempt and believes they are superannuated people with outrageous customs and rituals. His main goals as headmaster of the Ndume Central School are to promote and teach modern methods, eradicate traditional beliefs, and maintain the beautiful gardens on the school's grounds.

After Michael Obi notices that an ancestral footpath travels through his compound, he orders the path to be barricaded so that villagers cannot travel on it. The village priest, Ani, then visits Michael Obi and petitions him to reopen the ancestral footpath, explaining its significance to the villagers. Ani tells Michael Obi that the spirits of their ancestors and unborn children travel along the footpath to visit them, which is a belief that Obi finds amusing and ridiculous. Michael Obi refuses to reopen the footpath, and a woman dies during childbirth that night. In response to her death, the villagers destroy the beautiful school grounds the next day. When a white supervisor visits the Ndume Central School, he witnesses the destruction and writes a scathing report regarding the tribal-war situation developing as a result of Michael Obi's misguided zeal.

Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 312

Michael Obi’s ambition is fulfilled when, at age twenty-six, he is appointed to whip into shape an unprogressive secondary school. Energetic, young, and idealistic as he is, Obi hopes to clean up the educational mission field and speed up its Christianizing mission. Already outspoken in his denigration of “the narrow views” and ways of “superannuated people in the teaching field,” he expects to make a good job of this grand opportunity and show people how a school should be run. He plans to institute modern methods and demand high standards of teaching, while his wife, Nancy—who looks forward to being the admired wife of the headmaster—plants her “dream gardens” of beautiful hibiscus and allamanda hedges. With Nancy doing her gardening part, they will together lift Ndume School from its backward ways to a place of European-inspired beauty in which school regulations will replace the Ndume village community’s traditional beliefs.

So Obi dreams and plans until one evening when he discovers a village woman cutting across the school gardens on a footpath that links the village shrine with the cemetery. Scandalized by her blatant trespassing, Obi orders the sacred ancestral footpath fenced off with barbed wire, much to the consternation of the villagers. The local priest then tries to remind Obi of the path’s historical and spiritual significance as the sacred link between the villagers, their dead ancestors, and the yet unborn. Obi flippantly derides the priest’s explanation as the very kind of superstition that the school is intended to eradicate because “dead men do not require footpaths.” Two days later the hedge surrounding the school, its flower beds, and one of its buildings lie trampled and in ruins—the result of the villagers’ attempt to propitiate the ancestors whom Obi’s fence has insulted. After his supervisor issues a report on this incident, Obi is dismissed.

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