Cultural Clash in “Dead Men’s Path” by Chinua Achebe

The clash of different cultures often becomes a subject of literary works. Cultural clash is an interesting and frequently met phenomenon that takes place every time when people of different cultures meet. Dead Men’s Path by Chinua Achebe serves as a bright example of a cultural clash. The matter of conflict in the story is a path that led from the village across the school and was never used by anyone.

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Full with enthusiasm and bright, as he thought, ideas, Michael Obi, a new school headmaster, closed the path, which, according to the beliefs of the villagers, was not allowed to do. The peak of the clash takes place when the path is closed and Obi does not want to listen to the priest who the villagers send to him to explain the meaning of the path. Dead Men’s Path presents a cultural clash between Michael Obi and the villagers, modern and traditional cultures, the clash that consists in their different ideas about knowledge, experience, and general attitude towards life the opposition of which leads to unpleasant consequences.

To begin with, the clash between these two cultures consists in difference between their understanding of the concept of knowledge. For modern people, knowledge can be gained through education. In case with the story, Michael Obi 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” (Spack 113).

For him, knowledge consisted in good education that made a person progressive and full of “wonderful ideas” (Spack 113). The villagers, naturally, were uneducated, which is why they could not have been perceived by Obi as the ones who possessed knowledge. At the same time, the villagers saw knowledge in wisdom and abidance by the eternal laws that their culture obliged them to know. They believed that certain kind of knowledge could not be gained at school, the knowledge of traditions, natural laws, and cultural values. This difference in understanding of knowledge resulted in a cultural clash between Obi and the villagers.

Apart from the cultural clash between two different kinds of knowledge, there is also a clash between two different kinds of experience. For the villagers, experience is something that is carried through the generations and should be respected and held in reverence. They learn by the experience of their ancestors and are aware of what would happen if a certain tradition is not observed. For instance, they knew that closing the path would court disaster.

They knew that their ancestors would be “insulted by the fence” (Spack 115) and take revenge, which did take place when a young woman in the village died during the childbirth. In contrast, experience for Obi, a modern person, consisted in putting his ideas into practice and achieving his goals. At this, he did not care whether he did or did not show disrespect for the traditions of other people. He just closed the path basing on the fact that it was disused and following the designer ideas of his wife who wanted to have “beautiful gardens” and make everything “modern and delightful” (Spack 113). The story makes it clear that these two kinds of experience are opposite, which is why they contribute into the cultural clash between the Obis and the villagers.

And lastly, the story explores cultural clash between two entirely different attitudes towards life. To make this clash obvious, Achebe introduces a priest into the story. The priest serves as an embodiment of the villagers’ knowledge and wisdom; he is a symbol of their traditional attitude towards life. He is telling with owe about the importance of the path for his people: “The whole life of this village depends on it. Our dead relatives depart by it and our ancestors visit us by it.

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But most important, it is the path of children coming in to be born” (Spack 115). This represents the villagers as people faithful to their traditions and respectful to the beliefs of their ancestors. The fact that this explanation was held in derision by Obi reflects his attitude towards life. His stating “Our duty is to teach your children to laugh at such ideas” (Spack 115) presents him as a rude person who has no respect not only for other people’s beliefs, but for elderly people in general. His life consists in reaching his own goals, while the villagers’ life consists in promoting the welfare of the community, which leads to a clash between these two cultures.

In conclusion, Dead Men’s Path perfectly presents a clash of two different cultures, modern and traditional ones. This clash is caused by the differences in the cultures’ representatives’ understanding of knowledge, experience, and attitudes towards life. Despite all the negative consequences of Obi’s behavior, the aim of the story is not to criticize a particular culture; instead, its purpose is to show how important it is to have respect for other cultures and to work in collaboration in order to achieve progress.

Work Cited

Spack, Ruth. The International Story: An Anthology with Guidelines for Reading and Writing about Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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