During your first reading, be pressing the following curiosities. Note that they have to do with certain basic choices the author has made in the course of deciding on the story.
(1) What is the point of narrative point of view here? What are some facts that can be brought to light from this point of view that would be awkward or impossible to give the reader access to if some other choice were made?
(2) What strokes of foreshadowing do you notice as you are reading the story for the first time?
When we experience something as possibly pointing something to come without disclosing what exactly it is, we have a kind of plot device we might call prospective foreshadowing.
After you've finished your first reading, look back and see how many touches Achebe has built into the narrative to be appreciated as foreshadowing, but only retrospectively. Do you also notice some that you probably were expected to appreciate prospectively as foreshadowing something as yet undefined to come, but did not?
Prospective foreshadowing can of course function as a technique for keeping a reader engaged, to keep reading further. But in ethically (including religiously or politically) engaged fiction, it is almost always going to serve a larger purpose. Both kinds of foreshadowing, when all is said and done, point to something. And this pointing to functions as a kind of emphasis. In an artfully constructed story, emphasis will not be randomly squandered, but directed to something that is important in terms of the larger reason for being of the story as a whole, its theme.
(3) What are some other key features of Achebe's plotting of this story?
- What information constitutes the exposition?
- How does the narrator contrive to get it in?
- Is it divisible into recognizably different sections or phases?
- How is all of it important, later on, down the line? For example: why is are the details we get about Michael's wife Nancy important?
- What constitutes the precipitating incident?
- What is the climactic moment?
- What are the distinct phases of the rising action, leading up to the climax?
- What is the denouement, and how (more than one way?) is it important to the overall meaning of the story as a whole?
It's best not to read further in this study guide until you have completed your first reading.
After you've read and reflected on the story in the light of the above, give some thought to the following issues. Then read the story again with these agendas of curiosity in mind. When you're done with that reading, come back to these questions and work through them in a careful and deliberate way.
(3) What are some issues raised for you by Michael's decisions with respect to his teaching staff?
- What motives are demands on his staff likely to cultivate in them? (Here we are invited to project ourselves into their shoes.)
- How will this be likely to affect the school in the long run?
- How do his priorities strike you in light of the fact that this is a Christian mission school?
- What issues might Achebe be pointing at here?
(4) How many ways does the setting (natural and social) in this story relate to the main action of the story?
(5) What offer does the village elder present to Michael Obi in "Dead Men's Path"?
It's best not to read further in this study guide until you have completed your second reading.
After you've read and reflected on the story in the light of the above, give some thought to the following issues. Then read the story again with the following agendas of curiosity in mind. When you're done with that reading, come back to these questions and work through them in a careful and deliberate way.
(6) You've already considered some of the ways in which the setting plays important causal and conditional roles in this story. But in addition to functioning causally and conditionally with respect to action, elements of setting can also function symbolically. We have to be careful not to force a symbolic role upon elements of the setting. But there are indications in this story that Achebe has designed certain features of the story's setting to function symbolically, over and above whatever role they may be discharging in respect of plot.
(7) What are some important ironies you could formulate about the course of action the plot takes in this story? How about concerning the character (personality) of the protagonist (in terms of the role to which he has been assigned by his superiors)?
Contents copyright © 2003 by Lyman A. Baker.
Permission is granted for non-commercial educational use; all other rights reserved.This page last updated 08 Feb 2004 .