Things Fall Apart Essay: Okonkwo the tragic heroGet Your
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A tragic hero is someone of superior qualities and status, who suffers a reversal of fortune due to major character flaws. In the novel, Things Fall Apart, Achebe portrays his own characterization of a tragic hero through Okonkwo, the main character. Like typical tragic heroes in other literature, he suffers a terrible death in the end. Despite his honorable and respectable social status, Okonkwo’s tragic flaws, fear of failure and anger, bring about his own destruction.
Okonkwo is one of the most powerful men in the Igbo tribe: “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond…he had brought honour to his village by throwing the Cat” (3). This suggests that in his society, power is attained by achieving greatness and fame, either through fighting or wrestling. Okonkwo also works and tends to his crops in a zealous fashion, which drives everyone around him to be as diligent as him. Because of this, he earns his place as one of Umuofia’s most respectable leaders.
Though he isn’t always please with his children and wives, they bring him a sense of pride and respect since having a large family means that the head of the family is able to support all of them. Okonkwo fails to free himself from his major character flaws, which ultimately brings about his tragic demise. Okonkwo’s first prominent flaw is his fear of failure, which is greatly influenced by his father, Unoka, a very lazy and carefree man. He had a reputation of being “poor and his wife and children had barely enough to eat…he was a loafer” (4).
Ashamed of his incapable father, Okonkwo felt that anything that resembled Unoka or anything that his father enjoyed was weak and unnecessary. Because of his fear to be seen as weak, Okonkwo even strikes down a child that calls him father: “…Okonkwo drew his matchet and cut [Ikemefuna] down. He was afraid of being thought weak” (43). Killing the child demonstrates Okonkwo’s fear of weakness and that to him, reputation is more important than the life of the child.
This flaw eventually brings about his downfall at the end when he continues to fight stubbornly against the white Christians since he believes giving up shows weakness. Okonkwo’s uncontrollable anger is another flaw that prevents him from true greatness and ultimately destroys his life. To discipline Nwoye, he becomes very rough on his son. For example, when Nwoye overhears that Ikemefuna was to be “taken home the next day, [Nwoye] burst into hears, whereupon his father beat him heavily” (40).
Okonkwo’s inability to control his infuriation eventually drives his son away to join the “enemies” and even reject his own family. This particular attitude causes much hatred in Okonkwo towards the missionaries to the point of him murdering one: “Okonkwo’s matchet descended twice and the man’s head lay beside his uniformed body” (144). His abhorrence and rage in this situation led him to his downfall. Although his emotion can be justified, it is clear that he cannot control his sudden rage and his quick-tempered actions.
Okonkwo’s suicide at the end of the novel concludes the life of a tragic hero. His fear of failure and sudden anger lead him to such actions that cannot be ameliorated and reversed. Despite his several honourable characteristics and his high status in the Igbo society, he fails to correct his tragic flaws and eventually suffers a terrible downfall. Bibliography:Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. : Heinemann International Literature & Textbooks, 1993.
Author: Brandon Johnson
Things Fall Apart Essay: Okonkwo the tragic hero
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Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart
- Length: 975 words (2.8 double-spaced pages)
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Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart
In Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo is a tragic hero. Aristotle’s Poetics defines a Tragic Hero as a good man of high status who displays a tragic flaw (“hamartia”) and experiences a dramatic reversal (“peripeteia”), as well as an intense moment of recognition (“anagnorisis”). Okonkwo is a leader and hardworking member of the Igbo community of Umuofia whose tragic flaw is his great fear of weakness and failure. Okonkwo’s fall from grace in the Igbo community and eventual suicide, makes Okonkwo a tragic hero by Aristotle’s definition.
Okonkwo is “a man of action, a man of war” (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 “shown incredible prowess in two intertribal wars” (5). Okonkwo’s hard work had made him a “wealthy farmer” (5) and a recognized individual amongst the nine villages of Umuofia and beyond. Okonkwo’s tragic flaw isn’t that he was afraid of work, but rather his fear of weakness and failure which stems from his father’s, Unoka, unproductive life and disgraceful death. “Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weakness….It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father.” Okonkwo’s father was a lazy, carefree man whom had a reputation of being “poor 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.” (5) Unoka had never taught Okonkwo what was right and wrong, and as a result Okonkwo had to interpret how to be a “good man”. Okonkwo’s self-interpretation leads him to conclude that a “good man” was someone who was the exact opposite of his father and therefore anything that his father did was weak and unnecessary.
Okonkwo’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 “degenerate and effeminate” (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).
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Okonkwo Chinua Achebe Hard Work Umuofia Igbo Hamartia Displays Good Man
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, Okonkwo’s tragic flaw, fear, also makes him excessively prideful (“The oldest man present said sternly [to Okonkwo] that those whose palm-kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble" [p. 28]). Okonkwo’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 Okonkwo’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, “hubris” 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 Okonkwo’s seven year exile (due to Okonkwo’s accidental killing of a member of the tribe at Ogbuefi’s funeral -the climax of the novel or Aristotle’s definition of a dramatic reversal), the village Okonkwo once knew has changed due to the influence of Christianity and the influence of the British. Okonkwo’s initial reaction is to arm the clan against the colonists and drive the British out of Igbo. “Now he (the white man) has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He (the white man) has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart” (152). Okonkwo had always used his strength and courage to protect the community from destabilizing forces, and because Okonkwo was a traditional man the introduction of Christianity posed a threat to all the values, morals and beliefs he sought to protect. Okonkwo resists change at every step and instead resorts to violence toward anything he perceived as a threat to his culture or values.
Okonkwo’s arrogant pride makes him believe that the clan leaders would eventually reunite the clan and drive the British colonists out of Umuofia (especially following his imprisonment along with a few clansmen for burning a church as a result of the Enoch’s unmasking of an egwugwu in public). Hoping that the clan will follow his lead, Okonkwo beheads a messenger of the British who was sent to break up a village meeting regarding the possibility of going to war. However, the clan instead of following Okonkwo’s symbolic action is shocked by Okonkwo’s brutality. Okonkwo recognizes (“anagnorisis”) “that Umuofia would not go to war”, because the clan “had broken into tumult instead of action”. Okonkwo knows that he must now face his disgrace alone.
The Igbo culture had made Okonkwo a hero, but the Igbo culture changed with the coming of the British colonists. Okonkwo, a hero, would rather die than be humiliated his enemies and by committing suicide Okonkwo prevented the European colonizers from getting revenge. Aristotle’s statement, “Man, when perfect, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all”, embodies the rise and fall of Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s novel. Okonkwo, like many tragic heroes before him, maybe a hero but his tragic flaw prevents him from achieving true greatness as a human being.