In several literary works, characters frequently find themselves on the threshold of two worlds, forced to make decisions involving betrayal of genealogy, family, or culture. This conflict frequently results in humiliation, disdain, and desperation as they seek acceptance and identity. This article will examine the issues encountered by Michael Obi from “Dead Men’s Path” by Chinua Achebe and the speaker in “From the House of Yemanjá” by Audre Lorde. By analyzing these characters’ decisions, we may better comprehend the consequences of their actions. This essay asserts that, in Chinua Achebe’s “Dead Men’s Path” and Audre Lorde’s “From the House of Yemanjá,” the protagonists face the challenge of navigating between two worlds, grappling with conflicts involving tradition, heritage, and personal identity, ultimately emphasizing the importance of cultural sensitivity and respect in their journey to self-discovery and acceptance.
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In “Dead Men’s Path,” Michael Obi is a young, educated headmaster who is enthusiastic about modernizing the backward Ndume Central School. His zeal for progress drives him to implement new ideas and improve the school’s standards. However, his narrow-mindedness and contempt for traditional beliefs lead to a conflict with the villagers. Obi states that his goal is to “eradicate just such beliefs as that” when referring to the villagers’ ancestral footpath (Achebe 42). This footpath, which connects the village shrine with the burial ground, holds great significance for the villagers. Obi’s decision to close it off with barbed wire and heavy sticks demonstrates his disregard for the local culture and tradition.
Michael Obi’s pursuit of modernity is further exemplified by his wife, Nancy, who shares his enthusiasm for modern methods and disdain for traditional practices. When they first learn of Michael’s promotion, she envisions herself as the “admired wife of the young headmaster, the queen of the school” (Achebe 40). Her anticipation of being the trendsetter among the wives of other teachers reflects the couple’s collective desire to break from the past and create a new standard. This mindset exacerbates their inability to understand and respect the villagers’ customs and beliefs.
Additionally, Michael Obi’s decision to disregard the villagers’ beliefs and customs in “Dead Men’s Path” is costly. The closure of the ancestral trail causes a succession of tragic occurrences, including the death of a young lady during delivery and the demolition of the school compound. The priest of the community had cautioned Obi, stating, “The whole life of this village depends on it. Our dead relatives depart by it and our ancestors visit us by it” (Achebe 41). Obi’s obstinacy and reluctance to compromise with the locals resulted in the degradation of the school’s connection with the community and a poor report from the government education officer.
In addition, the struggle in “Dead Men’s Path” emphasizes the significance of finding common ground and valuing the ideas of others. The priest of the village tries to give a solution by advising, “Let the hawk perch and let the eagle perch” (Achebe 42). Obi’s refusal to consider the prospect of a compromise, however, illustrates the repercussions of disregarding the relevance of cultural traditions and rituals. If Obi had been more accommodating and considerate, the matter might have been settled amicably, allowing the school and the hamlet to remain in harmony.
On the other hand, the speaker in “From the House of Yemanjá” by Audre Lorde struggles with her identity as the daughter of two different women, one dark and hidden, and the other pale and familiar. The speaker expresses her hunger for her mother’s “blackness” and the connection to her ancestry (Lorde 29). She is torn between the two worlds represented by her mother’s dual nature, and this internal conflict leads her to crave a sense of belonging.
The speaker’s struggle for identity in “From the House of Yemanjá” is marked by her feelings of isolation and the absence of supportive siblings. She laments that “time has no sense / I have no brothers / and my sisters are cruel” (Lorde 25-26). The lack of a nurturing and understanding family environment compounds her emotional turmoil and intensifies her longing for acceptance and connection to her roots.
Additionally, the speaker’s search for identification and acceptance in “From the House of Yemanjá” forces her to confront the difficulties of her history. She knows that she “bears two women upon her back” (Lorde 11), symbolizing her ancestors’ dual features. The speaker’s need for a connection to her ancestry exemplifies the significance of embracing one’s background and the influence it has on personal identity. The poem also underlines the need of self-discovery and comprehension. The speaker admits to being “the sun and moon and forever hungry / the sharpened edge / where day and night shall meet and not be / one” (Lorde 32-34). This metaphor implies that the speaker is a synthesis of the two worlds symbolized by her mother’s dual nature. The speaker might find consolation and understanding in her unique personality by recognizing and embracing this contradiction.
Both Michael Obi’s story in “Dead Men’s Path” and the speaker’s journey in “From the House of Yemanjá” demonstrate the importance of respecting and understanding different cultures, beliefs, and personal identities. Obi’s failure to appreciate the villagers’ traditions leads to disastrous consequences, while the speaker in Lorde’s poem seeks to embrace her dual heritage to find a sense of belonging.
In conclusion, the characters in “Dead Men’s Path” by Chinua Achebe and “From the House of Yemanjá” by Audre Lorde provide useful insights into the difficulties faced by persons who must move back and forth between two cultures. Culture sensitivity, respect, and self-discovery are all illuminated through the trials and tribulations these individuals face. Recognizing and appreciating the varied perspectives, customs, and experiences of others is becoming increasingly important as our globalized and multicultural society continues to expand. Doing so can help them develop qualities like compassion, tolerance, and open-mindedness by increasing their awareness of oneself and the world around them. Both “Dead Men’s Path” and “From the House of Yemanjá” are potent reminders that our actions in times of conflict have far-reaching repercussions, and that it is essential for our own development and for the well-being of society as a whole that we value and honor the unique perspectives of others.
Achebe, Chinua. “Dead Men’s Path.” Sabanci University, 2021.
Lorde, Audre. “From the House of Yemanjá by Audre Lorde.” Poetry Foundation, 9 Mar. 2020, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42578/from-the-house-of-yemanja.