Faye Rapoport DesPres

Dead Man’s Path

I’ve just started teaching a literature course on “The Short Story,” and short fiction is fast becoming one of my favorite reading choices.

Today we read “Dead Man’s Path” by well-known Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. The story describes a young, ambitious headmaster who is determined to modernize a school in a very old, traditional community. The main character blows into town with all of his modern ideas and gets to work, disregarding the feelings and traditions of the people who live there. In his quest to make things “better,” he reveals not only his arrogance, but also poor judgment. It doesn’t turn out well for him.

“Dead Man’s Path” is a wonderful brief “snapshot” (as one student put it) of another time and place that manages, in just a few short pages, to plant ideas in the reader’s mind that are so much larger than the specifics of the story.

A wonderful start to the semester.