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An Analysis of Dead Men’s Path by Chinua Achebe

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    This paper will discuss the book Dead Men’s Path BY Chinua Achebe and discuss the many differing aspects that came into making this work. A brief biography and description of the many facets of this short story will be described to get a better understanding of what the author intended and how he went about doing that.

    Unlike some African writers struggling for acceptance among contemporary English-language novelists of the 50’s, Achebe has been able to avoid imitating the trends in English literature. Rejecting the European notion "that art should be accountable to no one, and [needs] to justify itself to nobody,” (King p.167) as he puts it in his book of essays, Morning Yet on Creation Day, Achebe has embraced instead the idea at the heart of the African oral tradition: that "art is, and always was, at the service of man.” These were the motivations in his time and what he sought to do in his academic writing.

    The theme of this story is to reveal the way that the people of Ibo are under the rule of imperialist forces and must survive accordingly to the dictates of a country that serves these terrible ways of governing a people. The theme is basically that these people are dying in the crushing weight of peoples who cannot truly rule themselves because another country has taken over. Achebe sets the tone of the story with the “theme being the struggle for people to live in a society that drives them down as human being everyday” (King p. 56) and brings out the pain of the land that these people must live in order to survive in this country.

    In the characters of the story folktales and proverbs are an integral part of the writer's style, and these elements are obvious extensions of the influence in his life of the village of Ogidi, where he grew up. In the relationships he finds the many facets of how they deal with the hard living that goes on in a third world country such as Nigeria. Achebe believes that the characters must have a direct relationship to the other events in the sorry and he reflects them in The Dead Men’s Path discussing the hardships of life in this tribal community. As a child, Achebe was told folktales by his mother and older sister, a custom that is repeated by the characters in Dead Men’s Path is revealed.

    The practice is more than simply a means of drawing a picture of village life, however, it is a literary technique that is characteristic of his work and “he uses personal recollection to make his characters come alive”. (Gates p.155) He is concerned primarily with individuals. His narrative method is detached, almost impassive, made of objective formulations through which the human drama is unfolded. Yet it is not impersonal, for instead of flamboyant colors of a heated imagination, we have rather the clear lines that compose a picture by a dispassionate observer of human destiny, who constructs a vision out of his awareness of an inexorable order within the characters and reflects this in the how they react to a culture imprisoned.

    The symbolism used in the book reflects the way that poor people in Africa lived and he uses many symbols of a subservient culture within the tale. The symbolic use of “dead people” within the tale reflects the way that these people felt in a society that virtually enslaved them within their own community. Although the inhabitants of the village were not enslaved literally, Achebe reflects the theme of the “dead” as a symbolic reoccurrence within the story” (Gates p.67) to reveal the way that these people lived their lives living under European colonialism.

    The imagery of the tale is one that shines with the color black and reveals the darkness of the people subjugated. African imagery is used to convey the natural climate that these peoples lived and why they were a part of their environment. By revealing the oppressive heat of the Jungle, the blackness of the people, there is a very “dark image of the hard times” (King p.36) that these people experience under the yoke of the Europeans that dominate their society and force them into cultural submission. These are images that reoccur within this story and reflect the central theme, which is a culture that appears to be struggling to overcome European colonialism.


    • Gates,Jr., Henry, Kwame Anthony Appiah (Editor), Chinua Achebe: Critical Perspective, HarperTrade, January, 1994.
    • King, Bruce, Introduction to Nigerian Literature, University of Illinois Press, January 1975.

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