Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart
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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.
Okonkwo as Tragic Hero in Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
1140 Words5 Pages
One of the most commonly asked questions about the novel Things Fall Apart is: why did Achebe choose a tragic hero, Okonkwo, as the main character in the story. According to Nnoromele, “A hero, in the Igbo cultural belief system, is one with great courage and strength to work against destabilizing forces of his community, someone who affects, in a special way, the destinies of others by pursuing his own. He is a man noted for special achievements. His life is defined by ambivalence, because his actions must stand in sharp contrast to ordinary behavior”(Nnoromele). In my opinion, he chose this type of hero to show the correlation between Okonkwo’s rise and fall in the Igbo society to the rise and fall of the Igbo culture itself. Many…show more content…
Okonkwo said yes very strongly; so his chi agreed”(Achebe 27). The proverb from this quote means that if you are willing to work, the gods will reward you. However, once he kills Ikemefuna, everything seems to go down hill from there. His family is banished from the village, he loses everything that he worked hard for his whole life, and life as he knew it had been turned upside down. His chi had changed from being one of the best, to one of the worst in a single gun shot. Bad chi seems to be the main cause of all of Okonwo’s failures, and leads many to perceive him as a tragic hero.
On the other hand, another characteristic of Okonkwo that causes him to be seen as a tragic hero is his struggle to deal with the crumbling Igbo culture around him. Upon his return to Umuofia from his motherland, everything has changed among the Igbo people. The white men had completely torn apart a culture which at one point seemed to be so strong. Some had even been converted into Christians and almost everyone was questioning their own beliefs. According to Stephen Criswell, when Okonkwo returned, he had a decision to make between standing up for what he believed in and against what he hated, or complying with the white man’s way and being like everyone else in the tribe(Criswell). Unlike the others, Okonkwo would not back down, and that is why he is a hero. The Igbo culture was slowly being destroyed by the