Forward Across Graves. Chinua Achebe's “Dead Men's Path” as an Example for a Cultural Clash

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar), 2011

12 Seiten, Note: 2,3


Contents page


2. Coherence between the biography of the Author Chinua Achebe and the issue of a cultural clash
2.1 Biography
2.2 Cultural clash

3. Summary of the short story
3.1 Main content
3.2 Analysis of setting, time and voice
3.3 Characterization of the main characters

4. Main conflict of the text
4.1 Main problem
4.2 Different points of view shown in the text and stylistic devices used by the author to make clear his preferences regarding point of view

5. Conclusion- Message of the author?



“People go to Africa and confirm what they already have in their heads and so they fail to see what is there in front of them. This is what people have come to expect. It´s not viewed as a serious continent. It´s a place of strange, bizarre and illogical things, where people don´t do what common sense demands.”[1]

In western society every woman and every man is taught that it is of utmost importance to reach one´s goals and become successful is one of the main fields of life. As a result, many young people fight for their dreams neither looking left or right. Throughout history, progress and innovation were two of the most important catchphrases and through all times in history the “more educated and more modern” people thought it was the most important thing to bring their new knowledge, lifestyle and ideas to the more backward ones since that would make their life so much better. But just these notions are wrong. Contact with other cultures and bringing new ideas doesn´t change minds! And exactly this is the main theme in the short story “Dead men´s path” by Chinua Achebe which was published in 1953. This issue, Achebe points out, has its roots in his own biography and is a recurrent theme of many of his novels and poems.

In the following paper I want to explain the main conflict shown in the short story and bring it into context to Achebe´s biography on the one hand and constantly recurring mistakes mankind makes on the other hand. To make it a clear and easily understandable piece of work I will start with the coherence between biography and the cultural clash, follow up with a summary and analysis of the short story and then turn to describing the conflict and its deeper meaning.

2. Coherence between the biography of the Author Chinua Achebe and the issue of a cultural clash

2.1 Biography

The most widely read black African novelist was born in Nigeria in 1930. He wrote- and is still writing poems, short stories and novels. For him every writing has to include a deeper sense, serve a purpose or convey a message.[2] Although he himself had a Christian family, as a member of the Ibo he also had many non- Christian neighbors all around him. He attended an English government-run school due to the fact that the 1930s were the time of British colonialism in Nigeria. He discovered his love for English literature although he was more and more disturbed by the representation of Africans in English literature. In 1966 ethnic violence erupted and on year later this led to civil war. Chinua Achebe “found that the independence his country was supposed to have won was totally without content […] The old white master was still in power. He had got himself a bunch of black stooges to do his dirty work for commission.”[3] His first novel “Things Fall Apart” was published in 1953 and later, during the civil war, he wrote many poems which dealt with this specific topic. After this time of riots and war he became a professor and lectured at American, British and Nigerian universities and received more than twenty honorary doctorates and several international literary prizes.

2.2 Cultural clash

As I mentioned, Achebe was born and grew up in the time when Nigeria was under the rule of British colonialists. As Great Britain was a part of the new western world, which then thought (and, by the way, is still thinking ) their way of life and behaviour is more progressive and thus superior to other nations , they wanted to impose these ideas on Nigeria and its culture. Starting as a young boy the novelist was confronted with this difficulty throughout his life. As a result, most of his work is deeply influenced by that. “Cultural clash” is not limited to one specific event in history, but is a general wording. It expresses a conflict of two different cultures in misunderstanding and not rarely in not respecting each other, caused by “the world around us", which in turn influences our decisions […].Culture — the history, beliefs, customs, habits and values of a group of people — determines the way we respond to the world around us."[4] Not only the nature of people, but also nurture influences our lives. Culture shapes our minds, values, priorities and beside this it determines our perception of aesthetic, the way life tastes and view on other races and nationalities. In the following part of my assignment I am going to show this conflict with the example of the short story by Chinua Achebe.


[1] Achebe, Chinua. “Things fall apart”, 12 July 2011: <>

[2] Cf. Achebe, Chinua. 24 July 2011: <>

[3] Achebe, Chinua. 24 July 2011: <http:/>

[4] Hollies, Nigel. Chief Global Analyst, Millward Brown, May 2009. 25 July 2011: <>

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Forward Across Graves. Chinua Achebe's “Dead Men's Path” as an Example for a Cultural Clash
Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena
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Juliane Richter (Autor:in), 2011, Forward Across Graves. Chinua Achebe's “Dead Men's Path” as an Example for a Cultural Clash, München, GRIN Verlag,


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