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How does the setting in "Dead Men's Path" cause conflict between Obi and the villagers?

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The setting in "Dead Men's Path" creates conflict between Obi and the villagers in that Headmaster Obi, determined to stamp out superstition and make the school a beautiful place, closes the path, which leads to a severe conflict with the villagers, who destroy the school grounds and even pull down a school building.

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The setting in Chinua Achebe's "Dead Men's Path" is simple, even mundane, but it creates a serious conflict between Michael Obi and the villagers.

The setting is merely a school, the Ndume Central School, in a little African village. Obi has been sent there as the new headmaster, and he is determined to improve the school to the best of his ability. For him, this means both guiding the minds of the students (especially away from the superstitions of their ancestors) and filling the school grounds with beauty. With his wife, Nancy, to help him, Obi is determined to "show these people how a school should be run."

Things run smoothly at first. Obi and Nancy create beautiful hedges and gardens throughout the school compound. But then one evening, Obi sees an old woman cross the school grounds, right through the gardens, walking along a faint footpath. He is horrified and goes to one of the teachers to find out what that is all about. The teacher explains that the elders of the village use the path to connect with the burial grounds and that they are very attached to it.

Obi cannot abide by such superstition, much less by people tramping through the schoolyard. He has the path blocked at both ends. A few days later, the village priest visits him and explains the purpose and nature of the path. According to the villagers' beliefs, it is the path walked by the dead leaving life, ancestors returning for a visit, and children coming to be born. It must not be blocked, or horrible things would happen. Obi merely smiles patronizingly. This is exactly the kind of superstition he is trying to educate out of the children, he says. He will not reopen the path, but that little footpath, such a small line across the landscape, has become a major point of conflict.

When a young woman dies in childbirth two days later, the villagers attack the school, ruining the gardens, pulling down the hedges, and even tearing down one of the school buildings. Obi stands humiliated before the school Supervisor that very day, and the latter's report scolds Obi for his "misguided zeal."

Indeed, Obi is most certainly at fault for the conflict (although the villagers must be blamed for the destruction). Had Obi left the path clear and tolerated the villagers' occasional use of it, life would have gone on peacefully. He has not yet learned that there is a difference between respecting people and agreeing with their beliefs. He does not have to agree with them that the path is used by the dead, but he certainly should have respected them as people and treated them with dignity. If he had, he would have saved himself much trouble.

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The setting (Nigeria in 1949) represents a period of social upheaval in Nigeria. It was during this time that the British increased their efforts to reform Igbo society through education.

Specifically, the ancestral footpath (as a setting) creates conflict between Obi and the villagers. The older Igbo generation cherishes traditional mores, while the newer generation views these traditions as outdated and unnecessary. In the story, the priest argues for tradition, but Obi stubbornly resists the elder. Obi represents the younger generation of Igbos who have been educated in missionary schools.

Before 1925, schools were invariably operated by missionaries. The chief aim of these schools was to convert Africans into Christians, and they were largely successful in their efforts. By 1925, colonial administrators began to fret that the missionaries were becoming more influential than the secular British government in Nigeria. While the missionaries used education to convert Nigerians, the colonial government preferred to use education to keep Nigerians socially and politically subservient.

After 1925, the colonial government began to invest in modernizing and subsidizing missionary schools instead of founding secular state schools. By 1949 (the setting for Achebe's story), new headmasters (younger Igbos educated in western-style social and political mores) were being dispatched to schools to effect changes. The result, as we can see, was conflict.

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The short story "Dead Men's Path" takes place in a Nigerian village, where an ancestral footpath runs through the compound of Ndume Central School. Michael Obi is portrayed as a zealous, insensitive, arrogant headmaster who wishes to modernize the villagers by exposing them to Western education. The conflict arises after Michael Obi orders that the ancestral footpath running through the school's grounds be blocked. After a village priest requests that the barricades be taken down because the footpath serves as a highway for ancestral spirits traveling back and forth to the village, Michael Obi laughs at him and dismisses his concerns by keeping the blockades in place. Unfortunately, a young woman dies during childbirth, and the villagers respond by destroying the grounds of the Ndume Central School. The setting is significant because the modern school intersects with the ancestral footpath, which represents the struggle between modernity and tradition.

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The setting in "Dead Men's Path" creates tension between Michael Obi, who has just been appointed headmaster of the Ndume School, and the villagers because of the path that runs through the schoolyard. The villagers rarely use the path, but "it connects the village shrine with their place of burial." Furthermore, one villager states, "Our dead relatives depart by it and our ancestors visit us by it. But most important, it is the path of children coming in to be born..." Michael Obi believes that a school, where students are taught to use reason and logic, is no place for such beliefs. He responds, "Our duty is to teach your children to laugh at such ideas." 

Michael Obi, who is new to the village, is young and energetic and has many modern and "wonderful ideas." He views the school as unprogressive and hopes to modernize it. He has a negative attitude about the school, the villagers, and their customs. When he sees an old villager walking through the school along the path, he is dismayed and insists on blocking the path with sticks and barbed wire despite the fact that he hears of how important the pathway is to the villagers. His refusal to remove the barrier leads to the villagers' trampling of the schoolyard, which reflects poorly on Michael Obi, who the Supervisor believes acted with "misguided zeal."

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