Essay title: Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
In Chinua Achebeâ€™s novel Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo is a tragic hero. Aristotleâ€™s Poetics defines a Tragic Hero as a good man of high status who displays a tragic flaw (â€œhamartiaâ€) and experiences a dramatic reversal (â€œperipeteiaâ€), as well as an intense moment of recognition (â€œanagnorisisâ€). Okonkwo is a leader and hardworking member of the Igbo community of Umuofia whose tragic flaw is his great fear of weakness and failure.
Okonkwoâ€™s fall from grace in the Igbo community and eventual suicide, makes Okonkwo a tragic hero by Aristotleâ€™s definition. Okonkwo is â€œa man of action, a man of warâ€ (7) and a member of high status in the Igbo village. He holds the prominent position of village clansman due to the fact that he had â€œshown incredible prowess in two intertribal warsâ€ (5).
Okonkwoâ€™s hard work had made him a â€œwealthy farmerâ€ (5) and a recognized individual amongst the nine villages of Umuofia and beyond. Okonkwoâ€™s tragic flaw isnâ€™t that he was afraid of work, but rather his fear of weakness and failure which stems from his fatherâ€™s, Unoka, unproductive life and disgraceful death. â€œPerhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weaknessâ€¦.It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father.â€ Okonkwoâ€™s father was a lazy, carefree man whom had a reputation of being â€œpoor and his wife and children had just barely enough to eat.
.. they swore never to lend him any more money because he never paid back.
â€ (5) Unoka had never taught Okonkwo what was right and wrong, and as a result Okonkwo had to interpret how to be a â€œgood manâ€. Okonkwoâ€™s self-interpretation leads him to conclude that a â€œgood manâ€ was someone who was the exact opposite of his father and therefore anything that his father did was weak and unnecessary. Okonkwoâ€™s fear leads him to treat members of his family harshly, in particular his son, Nwoye. Okonkwo often wonders how he, a man of great strength and work ethic, could have had a son who was â€œdegenerate and effeminateâ€ (133). Okonkwo thought that, "No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man" (45).
Okonkwo wrestles with his fear that any sign of weakness will cause him to lose control of his family, position in the village, and even himself. Like many heroes of classical tragedy, Okonkwoâ€™s tragic flaw, fear, also makes him excessively prideful (â€œThe oldest man present said sternly to Okonkwo that those whose palm-kernels werecracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble" p. 28). Okonkwoâ€™s downfall (or specifically death) is a result of the changes created by the coming of the British Colonists to Igbo. The introduction of the colonists into the novel causes Okonkwoâ€™s tragic flaw to be exacerbated. Okonkwo construes change as weakness, and as a result of his interpretation Okonkwo only knows how to react to change through anger and strength.
He derives great satisfaction, â€œhubrisâ€ or prideful arrogance, from the fact that he is a traditional, self made man and thinks that to change would mean submitting to an outside force (Christianity). Following Okonkwoâ€™s seven year exile.