In Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, we can see many of the Aristotle’s tragic hero traits. Aristotle, was a Greek philosopher, well known for defining what a tragedy consist of. We owe a lot of our literature to Greek writers such as Sophocles, author of Oedipus Rex and the best example of a tragedy. Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is one of modern times greatest examples of a tragedy, in which our hero, or main protagonist, becomes a victim of his own flaws and dives onto his own destruction. According to Aristotle, the “tragic hero” has five common characteristics that define his role. As we go on, we will examine all of these and potentially show how Okwonko, our main protagonist, will reach the top and eventually crumble to his pitiful destruction..
Achebe’s, Things Fall Apart, is the sad tale of Okonkwo. The son of Unoka; a humble, gentle, laid back, yet lazy father.. Okonkwo strives to be someone important in his life, unlike his father who had the reputation of a wasted life. He by all means, does not want to be known for being the son of such a person, and therefore, embarks on a journey to become the complete opposite of what his father was; wealthy, manly, brave and even violent at times. Okonkwo represents in many ways, the typical traits of a hero. His bravery is like no ones else’s on his tribe. Even as a young boy, he was all about accomplishments and gaining the respect of people in order to get rid of his father’s reputation. He embraces these ideals and becomes hugely successful. He marries three women, and has several children, in which that are represented as sign of power. Unlike his father, he is able to take care of his entire family. According to Aristotle, one of the characteristics of being a tragic hero is being of noble birth. In this case, he is not, but he becomes noble as he is able to accomplish everything and soon becomes a leader. However, Okonkwos biggest flaw, which we’ll see clearly later on,, is his fear of being weak and his desire to be manly at all costs. “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.” (Achebe pg.53)
Okonkwo’s emphasis on being manly is his only way to enforce his rules and keep his reputation as a leader. As much as Okonkwo did not show it, he feared that he would repeat his father’s actions. Whenever he saw a glimpse of him within himself, he took it out on others, specially his older son Nwoye , who in fact, is a lot like Okonkwos father; “you have all see the great abomination of your brother. Now he is no longer my son or your brother. I will only have a son who is a manâ€¦if any of you prefers to be a woman, let him follow Nwoye now while I am alive so that I can curse himâ€¦”(Acehebe, 20.172)
The second characteristic according to Aristotle is something called hamartia; in Greek, this means the fall. It is the very essence of what destroys the hero without the option of an epiphany. This “tragic hero” as Aristotle describes it, is our main protagonist. Someone who either the audience or in this case, the reader feel pity for. It is evidently clear that Okonkwo has feelings, but does not dare express them. The narrator expresses this by letting us know what Okonkwo feels “inwards”. Okonkwo is presented with various situations which demand a moral choice. One of them being the killing of Ikemefuna.
Ikemefuna, was brought to Okokwo as a peace offering form another village and asked to stay with Onkokwo until they would decide what to do with him. As time went by, Okokwo grew fond of Ikemefuna and to the boy, Okokwo was a “father”. However, when the time came, for the boy’s judgment, it was said that the boy needed to be killed. “That boy calls you father. Do not bear a hand in his death” (Achebe, 7.57) warns the elderly man form the village. What is interesting about this, is the fact the Ikemefuna succeeds where Onkokwo fails. Nwoye becomes a better person and a better son thanks to Ikemefuna. His love for foltales, and his humility make Ikemefuna a perfect role model for Nwoye. Ironically, this death plays a huge role in what is going on in this society where the whites have arrived. Nwoye, after Ikemefuna’s death decides to convert to Christianity; as if Ikemefuna was some sort of Christ-like figure.
Just like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, where victor is a victim of his own arrogance and god like playing, and just like its portrayed in heart of darkness, Okonkwo is one of many who by default, fall not only by his actions but by his bad judgment. The difference being, that Okonkwo never becomes aware of his own faults. The “tragic hero” is a walking irony.
. On the week of peace, Okonkwo beats his wife, Oijugo. “In his anger he had forgotten that it was the Week of Peaceâ€¦But Okonkwo was not the man to stop beating somebody half-way through, not even for fear of a goddess. (Achebe pg.29)
We can clearly see that Okonwko does not fear anything. Weather he is beating or killing someone, he is willing to sacrifice anything, to not look weak. In the end, it is this major flaw, which generates his fall.
There is also, a clear struggle between tradition and change in which they all fall victims to as well, including Okonkwo, who struggles really hard to keep his overbearing pride. However, his inability to cope with the coming of the whites and his pride, become his hamartia, or his “tragic” flaw. Okonkwo strived to represent his tribe and in this case, he also represented Africa. He represented what Africa was before the colonizations began. This is a clear example of imperialism, just like in heart of darkness. However, the vision Achebe has of Africa is a lot less harsh than the one seen in Heart of Darkness. Okonkwo represents Africa and begins to unravel like a society and falls apart when the whites arrive due to religious enforcement, economic changes and government such as courts. However, A lot of the villagers adopt the new customs that the white men bring. The narrator states “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one.” (Achebe 20.176).
Aristotle defines the tragic hero as someone who is usually of noble birth, experiences the hamartia, also known as the flaw that leads to the downfall, and in the end, experiences a catharsis weather to die or not. However, in things fall apart, Okonkwo does not go through the process of catharsis, or “purification”, in which a character cleanses itself from all the bad and becomes aware of his own faults and actions. In other words, almost like an epiphany. Okonkwo hangs himself
His last and final attempt is his way of running away from weakness. Okonkwo commits suicide knowing he was a failure and had no power over his village due to the white men taking over his village which leads him to kill the messenger. Okonkwo was hoping to have power to get rid of the whites but his own pride, and fear of being “weak” backfired and ended up destroying him without the possibility of “purification”.
Lastly, there are different types of heroes’. We have Joseph Campbell’s Hero, in which a journey though thresholds and fights lead to the elixir of life. Aristotle believes that the suffering of our hero has some meaning to it, even though he or she brought it upon him/herself. Lastly, we have the modern “tragic hero”, brought in by Shakespeare. This hero, has no chance and usually ends up dead without any option of purification or epiphany. Achebe’s, Things Fall Apart, is modern times’ greatest example of a tragedy and one that has been valued by millions of people as one of the most important books ever written. Onkokwo in many ways, represents the darkness within us.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. First Anchor Books . United States: Anchor Boooks, 1994. Print.