In his poem "The Road Not Taken", Robert Frost discusses the significant theme of choices and their impact on a person’s life course. Frost deals specifically with the choice that is not frequently taken. He refers to it as to a "less traveled" path. The author says that taking an unusual path "made all the difference", again reiterating the importance of choice and emphasizing a great difference a decision can have to life.
The notion of choice embraces all areas of life. In a brief application of Robert Frost's poem to short story "Dead Men's Path", written by the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe's, the implication of a choice will be analyzed through its comparison with a possible opposite one.
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Achebe's main character, Michael Obi, is a young newly appointed headmaster who shares Western reform values. He is designated to the post by the Mission Authority to bring change to the school.
Having put much effort into reforming the school, both academically and exteriorly, Obi notices a footpath in the school compound. In his opinion, the trail impairs the aesthetics of the compound. He is informed that the footpath, although not used often, is a connector between the village’s shrine and local place of burial.
Obi is also told that this particular footpath is of great spiritual importance to the villagers. He discovers that, years ago, someone tried to close it up. Such a measure made a row among the residents. From the beginning, Obi is discouraged from fencing the pathway.
Obi worries a lot about the Government Education Officer's perception of the school, that is why he makes the choice to close the trail up. A few days later, a young woman dies in childbirth. People attribute this tragedy to the sacrilegious fencing of the path.
Similarly to "The Road Not Taken", "Dead Men's Path" raises the theme of choice. It becomes clear how the decision of one person can influence the life of a whole community. Obi's disregarding of the villager's religious beliefs led to a series of sad events.
The step, taken by the character, is not the road "less travelled" if we refer to the context of the village vis-à-vis reforms. It is believed that everyone has a choice, at least, there is always a possibility not to chose. Obi could have made a decision that would not completely disrespect the spiritual beliefs of those around him. Instead, he even did not take heed of the priest's warning. The priest specifically explained to Obi the importance of the footpath. The trail was meant for the spirits of dead ancestors and for relatives departing this life.
The protagonist could have taken a different path. In any way, he could have changed his reform intentions when it came to such a vital issue. He might have chosen to be more open-minded. The hero should have realized that not everything which he did not understand or which he comprehended remotely was against logic.
Michael Obi could also have attempted to reach some sort of a compromise about the footpath. Although it was not likely, taking account of the villagers’ strong believes, but at least, he could have tried.
More than anything else, Obi could simply have been willing to comprehend the cultural divide between himself and the rest of the village. Had the hero chosen to be not so blind with his own zeal, he might have been able to avoid the situation completely. Viewing the things objectively and developing a certain level of tolerance for the villagers' beliefs would have made a difference. It was not obligatory for Obi to share the residents’ spiritual believes, but he had to respect them.
We can see that the situation could have developed in another way. Michael Obi had an opportunity to protect the school compound from the new ruins as well as avoid the "nasty" report. All these changes would not have become reality if the character had simply lessened his well-intentioned, but destructive, zeal and adopted a tolerant attitude towards the villagers.
If Obi had made the choice to comprehend the spiritual reasons behind keeping the footpath, he might have ended up with a much better review from the Supervisor; one that, perhaps, would have commended him for the effort put for promoting cultural tolerance. All his other work on the school's academic reform would not have been overshadowed by the damage to the compound’s exterior and Obi would have been given credit for the considerable work he had done for improving the school.
Finally, returning to the importance of choice, one may come to the conclusion that drastic changes in Chinua Achebe's short story "Dead Man's Path" could not have occurred if the protagonist had made a different choice. Some other decision, taken by Obi, could have made subsequent events in his own life happier. The step, concerning others, may always boomerang its initiator. We should remember about this. Even if the path seems to be unknown or unusual, a person ought not to be afraid of taking it. Perhaps, it is the only right one. Not the outer look of things, but inner motives and values must direct a person’s steps. He/ she should understand that so many people in the world, so many opinions. If someone’s views vary from ours, it does not mean that they are wrong. They are just different, having the same value and importance. All people share the same planet and sun, so tolerance is the only key to understanding and living a happy life.
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