Chekhov’s “A Problem” and Achebe’s “Dead Men’s Path”, Essay Example

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Essay

Although Anton Chehkov’s “A Problem” and China Achebe’s “Dead Men’s Path” emerge from two distinct cultural milieus (Russia in the case of the former and Nigeria in the case of the latter), the reading of the stories in a comparative manner demonstrates universal motifs that transcend specific borders. Namely, both stories provide synopses of the tension between tradition and modernity. In the case of Chekhov, this tension takes the form of a personal conflict and the judging of a man’s character. In the case of Achebe, this tension takes the form of a cultural conflict between tribal beliefs and civilizational progress. Yet in both these stories the main story revolves around how traditional beliefs can impact life.

In Chekhov’s “A Problem” the main character Sasha Ushkov is charged with fraud. The narrative develops around whether the other family members should support Ushkov and protect the family’s honor, or wash their hands of the entire affair, letting him be judged by the legal system. The debate that makes up the text thus takes the form of, on the one hand, the importance of family honor and therefore tradition, and on the other hand, progress and the modern legal system, which introduces its own rules. The fact that the family decides to pay Sasha’s debts can be read as a demonstration of the importance of tradition. However, although the family helps Sasha, he continues his vagabond ways. Chekhov thus shows the power of tradition and its influence on human action, for better or for worse.

In Achebe’s “Dead Men’s Path” a footpath that leads through the modern university where the main protagonist Miachel Obi serves as director is used by the native inhabitants and is believed to possess spiritual significance. Obi wishes the institution to be modern, and thus, viewing the path as the symbol of an uncivilized superstition, closes it off. When misfortunes befall those who believe in the sacred quality of the path occur, they take out their frustration on the university, damaging it. In this case, tradition, whether right or wrong, once again demonstrates itself to be a force in determining the actions of individuals.

Accordingly, both Chekov and Achebe show how tradition, regardless of cultural context, can affect the lives of individuals. These old normativities, whether grounded in reality or not, influence the autonomy of men. Both authors thus demonstrate the continuing relevance of such beliefs, despite their possible falsehood.

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