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Chinua Achebe's short story, 'Dead Men's Path'

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Introduction

Good short stories In Chinua Achebe's short story, 'Dead Men's Path', we see a young and na�ve headmaster obsessed by modern practices, finding himself in conflict with a traditional village priest when he attempts to close a precious spiritual path, causing widespread turmoil throughout the community. Achebe tells us that Michael Obi was appointed headmaster of Ndume Central School, Nigeria in 1949. Accepting the job 'with enthusiasm', we are then told Obi was an accomplished secondary school student, and was labeled as a 'pivotal teacher'. It is also added that he was 'outspoken in his condemnation' of older, more traditional views. From this point on, I suspected that Obi would make a success of his job, with little interference from villagers, however, the true ending proved to far more satirical. It is also mentioned that Obi has two aims for his school: to have a high standard of teaching, and to turn the school gardens into a place of beauty, a task charged to his self obsessed wife. One evening however, as Obi was admiring his work, he is apparently 'scandalized' to see an elderly lady hobble across the school compound along an almost disused path. Despite being informed by a college of the trouble previously faced when similar action was taken, Obi decides to close the path, much to the distress of the village priest. "An old man" with "a slight stoop", the village priest meets with Obi to discuss the issue. ...read more.

Middle

Nadime Gordimer maintains a similar theme for her short story The Train from Rhoedsisa, in which a young married discover the stark contrast in their views, when the husband foolishly insults a talented craftsman by buying his beautiful work for a ridiculously low price. The story starts with the train approaching the station, and Nadine Gordimer describing in intricate detail, the appearance of the station and the reactions of its inhabitants. 'The stationmaster came out of his little brick station with its pointed chalet roof; the carved wooden animal, eternally surprised, stuck of a sack'. The dogs and chickens; with skin stretched like parchment over their bones' and seen to follow the stationmaster's children down the track. As 'they waited', Gordimer applies personification to the train, as it 'cries', 'I'm coming...I'm coming...'. As the train arrives, Gordimer describes how a 'young woman curved her body father out the corridor window' and inquires as to the price of a beautiful wooden lion. 'Carved out of soft dry wood that looked like sponge cake' the young woman is obviously immediately taken with the figurine, as the old man 'held it up to her still smiling, not from the heart, but at the customer'. This shows the desperation of the man, who is determined to sell his work, and does so by being false to the passengers on the train. Inquisitively, the young husband points out the majestic fur around the neck of the lion, 'telling you somehow that the artist had delight in the lion.' ...read more.

Conclusion

She does not want to feel this emotion again, 'she sat there not wanting to move or speak, or to look at anything even; so that the mood should be associated with nothing'. Morose, she remains 'at exactly the same angle, turned against the young man'. Finally the train leave the station, and 'called out to the sky, I'm coming, I'm coming, there was no answer.' Towards the end of the story, we learn that the lady feels a void, emptiness, and her husband is referred to as 'the young man', which seems strangely distant. The wife is beginning to realize that he is not just 'part of the holiday, but discomfortingly, a permanent element of her life. In both of these stories, arrogance leads to chaos and pain, and both of the central characters in each stories are given chances to alter the eventual outcome. It is however, in the reaction of two of the characters in which the surprise ending lies. In Train from Rhodesia, we perhaps expect the young woman to be impressed by her husband's resilience, but most obviously to be happy with her new gift. However she is ashamed that her husband has offended the craftsmen by making him desperately running after the train and offering such a low price. In Dead Men's Path, we do not expect the people of the village to retaliate in such a violent way, however, they tear down school buildings and trample the gardens, which is astonishing if we recall the initially frail appearance of the village priest. ...read more.

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