Editor's Choice

How do Micheal Obi and the priest differ in "Dead Man's Path"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The entire conflict of this incredibly short story comes from the clashing viewpoints of Michael Obi and the priest of the village near his school. When Obi constructs his school, it is a source of personal pride—the likes of which he has never felt before. He has his wife plant all manner of gardens on the campus, and he is extremely agitated when he sees an old villager walking through the campus on the ancestral footpath.

Obi is guided by an intense zeal for progress. He isn't necessarily wrong, but he has no patience for beliefs that he considers to be nothing more than laughable superstitions. He even tells the priest that the entire purpose of his school is to teach children to laugh at such quaint notions. The priest doesn't necessarily disagree with him but understands the importance of preserving tradition, particularly for people who have operated by it their whole life. Both men want what is best for the village, but the priest is respectful of the established beliefs of his people.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The most obvious differences between Michael Obi and the priest lie within their worldviews. Michael is a man of modernity who believes that progress and forward-thinking take precedence over traditional worldviews. That being said, Michael's progressive mentality leaves him rather closed-minded and insensitive to traditional beliefs, as he believes that his school's duty is to "teach your children to laugh at such ideas."

As opposed to Michael's more contemporary mindset, the priest is a traditional man whose beliefs are grounded in spirituality and the customs of the past. While Michael believes that his school is of the utmost importance to the village, the priest contends that the path that connects the village shrine to the burial grounds is central to the village. The priest is also of a more respectful disposition, as he states that does not wish to quarrel. He simply wants the path to be restored out of respect for the village's traditional ways.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Michael Obi is depicted as a young, enthusiastic headmaster who is determined to change the culture of the traditional African village by eradicating ancestral customs and beliefs. He is a strong proponent of modernity and wishes to make the Ndume Central School a contemporary learning institution. After closing the ancestral footpath, which runs through the school's compound, Obi reveals his authoritative, intolerant personality by refusing to listen to the village priest's suggestion to reopen the path.

In contrast, the village priest is portrayed as a wise, respectful man who reveres his traditional culture and beliefs. When he petitions Michael Obi to open the village footpath, he demonstrates his tolerant personality by saying, "let the hawk perch and let the eagle perch" (Achebe, 3). Unfortunately, Michael Obi is too stubborn and arrogant to reopen the footpath, which results in the destruction of his school's grounds.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Michael Obi and the priest from the village near the school are similar in that both want what is best for the village and the people in it. They differ in what they believe is best for the village and how they approach changing their community.

Michael Obi represents contemporary culture. He is, as Achebe says, "young and enthusiastic." He wants to change the school, which has always been "unprogressive." Unsurprisingly, Michael believes in progress, and in progressive changes. He wants things to be modern. He thinks that means things should be rational. This means there should be explicit reasons for things, private property should be respected, and the superstitions of the past (like the path walked by the dead) should be rooted out and abandoned.

The priest represents continuity, history, and community. He wants the people of the village to be able to do what they have always done. Of the two, the priest shows more respect for others and their beliefs.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Dead Men's Path," how does Michael Obi’s view of the dead men’s path differ from that of the priest?

In Chinua Achebe's "Dead Men's Path," there is an ancient path that runs through the local school's property. To the villagers, this path is the way that babies enter the world and the dead leave. Once the main character, Michael Obi, is assigned as headmaster of the school, he scoffs at the system and traditions surrounding the path. He views the path as a symbol of ignorance and blind belief and believes that it is his responsibility to bring up the village's "children to laugh at such ideas."

In response to learning of the path's importance to the people, he puts up barriers around the school's property. His actions elicit a visit from the village's well-respected priest. In contrast to Obi's unkind derision, the priest suggests compromise in relation to the path, suggesting that new ideas can also flourish while honor is shown to past beliefs. The priest actually never reveals in the story whether he fully believes in the traditions of the path or not; however, it is clear that he values the ancestral traditions of the village and believes that they should be preserved. Unfortunately, Obi does not heed the priest's words and instead suggests that the ancient path should be forgotten and "another path" constructed that doesn't go on the school property, revealing that Obi ultimately, although he claims to be so open-minded and forward-thinking, is unwilling to accept differing opinions.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on