Things Fall Apart Tragic Hero
How it works
A classical tragedy is meant to evoke emotions on the reader and make them sympathize for the tragic hero and recognize their humanity. Tragedies are characterized by the tragic hero overcoming obstacles only to inevitably reach their downfall. The hero’s fatal or tragic flaw is accountable for the hero’s demise. The hero can be viewed as a man who is a leader but who is also weak when it comes down to difficult situations. In Chinua Achebe’s Novel, Things Fall Apart, the author uses hamartia, peripeteia, and a tragic downfall to emphasize Okonkwo’s role as a classical tragic hero.
One important characteristic of a tragic hero is their fatal flaw, also known as hamartia. In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo has a fatal flaw that many are inclined to have. This flaw is his fear of becoming like his father. Each day of his life is “dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weakness” (Achebe 13). Okonkwo could have followed in his father’ s footsteps but instead he decides to make a name for himself. A life without work of family concerns is certainly an easier route. His fear of becoming like Unoka led him to be an unforgiving and cross man. It also led him to “hate everything that his father Unoka had loved” (Achebe 13). Living with the fear of falling in his father’s footsteps has caused Okonkwo to become insecure about what the other villagers will think of him.
How it works
Severe insecurity like this can lead a person to do things they would not usually do. This includes beating his wife during the Week of Peace. Just like in other tragedies, Okonkwo sets himself up for failure from the start. He may have many titles of the village and be respected in his community but because of this he gains excessive amounts of pride and pride can be extremely fatal. His pride can also be considered as another branch of his fatal flaw which means it will ultimately lead to his downfall. This parallels the story of Oedipus Rex as he proceeds to fulfill his fate of killing his father and becoming king by marrying his father. Okonkwo did not have a prophecy in the start of the book but both Okonkwo and Oedipus possess the same fatal flaw of fear and pride. Oedipus has a fear of killing his father and marrying his mother while Okonkwo has a fear of becoming like his father. Both of them have the excessive pride in themselves due to their success which makes them blind to what they have done and what they have become. Okonkwo is blind to the fact that he is stuck in his ways which means that he will never change, and this parallels his father’s actions.
Another important characteristic of a tragic hero is the reversal of fortune, also known as peripeteia. This is when everything that the tragic hero has worked for is lost and the audience often pities them. In Things Fall Apart, the reversal of fortune comes when Okonkwo kills his clansmen’s son. In the village of Umuofia “it [is] a crime against the earth goddess to kill a clansman, and a man who committed it must flee from the land” (Achebe 124). Okonkwo has gained many titles up to this point but after killing Ezeudu’s son, he loses it all. He is banished and forced to live in his mother’s house in other village for seven years. Although this can be viewed as his tragic downfall, it is merely a stepping stone on the road to downfall. This reversal of fortune forces Okonkwo to realize how much he had in his “old life”. Before killing his clansman, he did not realize that he was truly blessed to have the life he did because of his upbringing.
Okonkwo blames his chi for what has happened to him when he thinks that “clearly his personal God or chi was not made for great things” (Achebe 131). This could be true, but it could also be a test from his personal. It has been said that God puts his people through many trials to make them stronger and to test them. If this is a test, Okonkwo is failing. He is despaired and has no love for work that he previously had. Due to his laziness he has reverted to the ways of his father Unoka. Just like his father he is not motivated to work on his crops. This means that despite all his efforts to combat becoming like his father, he has indeed become like Unoka. Again, this reversal of fortune parallels the peripeteia of Oedipus Rex. In Oedipus Rex he is exiled from Thebes after discovering that he has fulfilled his prophecy. Just like Oedipus, Okonkwo is also exiled from his home.
The downfall of the tragic hero is the culmination of all of the events in the story come together. It is meant to evoke pity or fear in the audience. The hero’s downfall is his own fault because of his own free choice, but his misfortune is not wholly deserved. The downfall is seen as a waste of human potential and is due to excessive pride. Coming back into the village of Umuofia, Okonkwo believes that he will “return with a flourish and regain the seven years wasted” (Achebe 171). This shows that his motivation has come back from when it was lost during his exile. He believes that his village will let him pick up where he left off, but he is gravely mistaken. Once he returns he realizes that the Christians have begun to change the traditions of his home and he does not know how to restart in a place he does not know the framing of. He questions his people saying “What is it that has happened to our people? Why have they lost the power to fight?” (Achebe 175).
Instead of learning the new ways of the village alongside his clansmen, Okonkwo loses hope for his life. His inability to adapt to colonization will lead to his downfall. Okonkwo is naïve in thinking that he could pick up where he left off or even repair his reputation. Once he loses hope he takes his own life. This marks the official downfall of Okonkwo as a tragic hero. The death of the tragic hero is usually not a pure or complete loss because it results in catharsis which is an emotional cleansing. In this case it is not pure because in Umuofia “it is an abomination for a man to take his own life. It is an offence against the Earth, and a man who commits it will not be buried by his clansmen” (Achebe 207). After everything Okonkwo has done to have an outstanding reputation, he has ruined all of it by taking his life. Even his banishment did not truly tarnish his name but because suicide is an abomination in Umuofia his clansmen will not remember him fondly. Just as the village does not remember Unoka fondly, Okonkwo has followed in his father’s footsteps once again without realizing that he is making himself out to be his father’s son. The downfall of Okonkwo parallels the downfall of Oedipus Rex in the fact that they both are looked down upon and shamed in the end.
In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo makes a respectable name for himself and is motivated by his lazy father. His journey throughout the novel is similar to that of a tragic hero and therefore many of the elements also apply. Okonkwo possess a hamartia, peripeteia, and a downfall that taints his reputation. Things Fall Apart means that something that seems like it is believed to last forever, come to an end. This is a common theme in classic tragedies and more importantly in Things Fall Apart and in Oedipus Rex. The similarities in the two of these prove that Things Fall Apart is truly a classic tragedy.