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Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

In Chinua Achebes novel Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo is a tragic hero. Aristotles 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. Okonkwos fall from grace in the Igbo community and
eventual suicide, makes Okonkwo a tragic hero by Aristotles definition.
Okonkwo is a man of action, a man of war 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
ability in two intertribal wars. Okonkwos hard work had made him a wealthy farmer and a
recognized individual amongst the nine villages of Umuofia and beyond. Okonkwos tragic flaw isnt
that he was afraid of work, but rather his fear of weakness and failure which stems from his father
Unokas 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
Okonkwos father was a lazy, carefree man who had a reputation of being poor and his wife and
children had just barely enough to eat. Unoka had never taught Okonkwo what was right and
wrong, and as a result Okonkwo had to interpret how to be a good man. Okonkwos selfinterpretation 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.
Okonkwos 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. 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".
Okonkwo fights 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, Okonkwos 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".
Okonkwos 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 Okonkwos tragic
flaw to be worsened. Okonkwo interprets 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 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 Okonkwos seven-year exile (due to Okonkwos accidental killing of a member of
the tribe at Ogbuefis funeral -the climax of the novel or Aristotles definition of a
dramatic reversal), the village Okonkwo once knew has changed due to the influence of
Christianity and the influence of the British. Okonkwos 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.
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.
Okonkwos arrogant pride makes him believe that the clan leaders would eventually reunite the
clan and drive the British colonists out of Umuofia. 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 Okonkwos symbolic action is
shocked by Okonkwos 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 by his enemies and by
committing suicide Okonkwo avoided the European colonizers from getting revenge. Aristotles
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 Achebes 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.

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