Triumph and Tragedy: The Exploration of a Tragic Hero and the Consequences of Others That Contribute to the Overall Tragic Vision of the Piece “Things Fall Apart”
From the very title of this historical fiction novel, Things Fall Apart, composed by Chinua Achebe, it foreshadows the tragedy which is triggered by the tragic hero. Defined by Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher, a tragic hero is a character who is of noble stature and greatness who posses a hamartia, a tragic flaw that leads to the character’s downfall. Subsequently, the tragic hero undergoes peripeteia, the sudden reversal of fortune for this character which results in catastrophe. Ultimately the character acknowledges their situation, known as anagnorisis.
In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo, the central character, is considered to be the tragic hero. He transitions from being an admired leader and strong warrior of the lower Nigerian tribe, Umuofia, to committing in an act based on his hamartia that influences catastrophe. Okonkwo’s actions resulted in others suffering including himself. The anguish others experienced because of Okonkwo’s indecent choices contributes to the universal view of Okonkwo’s journey as the tragic hero. The first requirement for a character to be considered a tragic hero would be that the character must be of high status. As stated by Achebe in the novel, “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements”(3).
Okonkwo started from scratch, with no inheritance from his father, Okonkwo managed to work strenuously to become a strong warrior and a wealthy, respected man. Okonkwo earned many titles though his labour and dedication to not become a failure that his father was, Unoka. Unoka had borrowed an immense amount of money from his neighbors to buy titles he desired. He was a man known to be in debt. Okonkwo’s fear that he would become as his father did, he made the decision to hate everything his father ever loved. Okonkwo’s toil resulted in him having a large compound with a hut for each of his 3 wives with and many children. Okonkwo also possessing a large stock of yams, earned a lot of the respect from others for yams are valued in the Ibo Beliefs. Okonkwo also earned respect for himself when he was 18, when he bought honor to his town by defeating Amalinze the Cat, a previously undefeated wrestler for 7 years.
Okonkwo is a respected judge in the community, for he is one of the nine Egwugwu. This means he is presumed to be a spirit of an ancestor. Additionally, he is also a representative of his village to talk with the Mbaino village about the killer of the girl of Umuofia. Distinctly, Okonkwo is of noble stature, despite of how he began. Alike other tragic heroes, Okonkwo owns a tragic flaw, his hamartia. For his father, a failure, Okonkwo possess the fear of weakness and failure. Although these aspects drove him to success, fame, and his achievements, it also results in him causing many conflicts. Since Okonkwo’s has a fear of failure and weakness, this leads him to behave impulsively and violently Swindle 3toward others. This even includes his family members in which he is always violent and harsh towards. This is for his purpose of not being seen as weak person. Okonkwo’s extreme attitude of using strength and violence to not be seen as weak, ultimately causing problems with his family which lead to his ultimate downfall. For instance, Okonkwo fractures a clan law and beats the youngest of his wives during the week of peace. Also at the same time he comes close to shooting his second wife. Okonkwo kills his son Nwoye’s close 15 year old friend who was given up to Umuofia as a sacrifice for killing one of the women in Umuofia.
Ikemefuna, his name was, who lived with Okonkwo’s family for three years before the elders ordered him to be killed. Okonkwo is told not to take part in Ikemefuna’s sacrifice because he is basically the man who raised him for three years and Ikemefuna calls Okonkwo “father.” Okonkwo’s fear of being seen as weak, makes him react violently and he Kills Ikemefuna despite the warning given to him. Ikemefuna asks for Okonkwo’s help because “He was afraid of being thought weak”(43). By trying to be a powerful person and deciding to kill Ikemefuna and beats his wives during the week of peace shows Okonkwo weakened his relationship with Nwoye and his wives. His violent and impulsive qualities also hurts himself mentally which lead him to kill a court messenger from the British during the clan meeting which soon after leads Okonkwo to the discovery of his own tragic fate. The last requirement for a character being a tragic hero requires that the character must recognize his own fate and situation, anagnorisis. Okonkwo experiences anagnorisis when he returns home to Umuofia after his seven years of exile with his great plan. Upon his arrival, Okonkwo realizes that a lot has changed in Umuofia and that now he is not looked upon as Swindle 4important or famous anymore as he used to be before his exile. When his arrival doesn’t attract as much attention as he hoped, he loses his place in the Egwugwu. He also discovers the white men have settled in the village, trying to get the Ibo people to convert to Christianity. He sees that in his view the Christians are attacking Igbo customs and faith. Okonkwo was unhappy with this and by his temper, he persuades his clan to use violence to drive the white men out of the village.
Conflicts between the Ibo and the Christians included the unmasking of Egwugwu, the burning of the church and the deceptive meeting held by the white men which results in the capture and humiliation of the five clan members, including Okonkwo. Okonkwo then kills one of the five British court members, which is then when he discovers his tragic fate. When Okonkwo beheads the messenger during the clan meeting and sees that none of his clan members go after the escaping white men, “He knew that Umuofia would not go to war” (144). He realizes that he will never be able get rid of the white men in Umuofia because his clan will not fight with him. He realizes that he is defeated and cannot save his village from the white men influences. Okonkwo decides to hang himself, which is contributes to the meaning of an abomination in Igbo culture. Okonkwo’s character fits Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero. Okonkwo rises to be the honorable and successful leader of Umuofia. He also has a tragic flaw of a fear of weakness and failure that leads to his downfall ultimately. Finally, he discovers his own tragic fate and situation of his harsh temper by of killing the court British messenger. If it weren’t for the suffering of others in the novel caused by Okonkwo, a tragic hero, then the tragic hero vision of Okonkwo would not be whole.
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