Mrs. Macias & Mr. Pennell
According to Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher, a tragic hero is a character who sets
foot in a dramatic tragedy leading them to their downfall. In the novel, Things Fall Apart,
Achebe’s own definition of a tragic hero portrays through Okonkwo. Not only does Okonkwo
epitomize a tragic hero, but he meets Aristotle’s criteria with the traits of hubris, hamartia, and
Hubris, excessive pride, shows through the actions of Okonkwo. Okonkwo’s pride stems
from the obvious differences between him and his father. He forbids himself to portray weakness
and as a result, he turns to his aggression as a substitute quality. Believing aggression equals
manliness, Okonkwo engages in irrelevant actions. Even though Okonkwo considers Ikemefuna
“like a son”, he refuses to show any sign of affection for him (Achebe 28). Okonkwo even takes
part in his murder killing him with no hesitation: “. . . ‘My father, they have killed me!’ as he ran
towards him. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of
being thought weak” (43). His pride rises above everything and not even his fondness for the boy
stops him from showing any signs of fragility.
Aristotle’s criterion of a tragic hero states that a tragic flaw leads to the hero’s downfall—
hamartia. As a prisoner of his own superior-male culture, and as a consequence of his father’s
diminished ambition, Okonkwo’s paragon of masculinity produces his fear of weakness. His one-
track mind focuses on nothing but success. His hard work and expertise in war earns him a
tremendously high status in his village including an immense amount of wealth to support his
family. Not only does his fear drive him to success, but also leads him to act impulsively toward
other people, especially his family members. He expresses anger through brutality by beating his
wives without rationalization, and his stubborn behavior begins to divest him from his clan. In
the abyss of his emotions, Okonkwo obtains compassion for people, but his predominate fear
impedes him from displaying his tenderness: “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 . . .
Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself” (13).
Ultimately, Achebe perfectly characterizes Okonkwo as a tragic hero due to his reversal
of fortune, or peripeteia. Okonkwo does not wholly deserve his misfortune, but his actions and
abrupt behavior warrant banishment. Upon his arrival back to Umuofia, Okonkwo seeks to
protect his culture but faces apathy from his own people. He no longer holds the glorious social
status from before. Achebe discusses how the arrival of white men makes Umuofia “fall apart”.
The impact of the British culture changes the traditions of Umuofia, and Okonkwo realizes that
he cannot save his village and its traditions no matter how fiercely he tries. Acknowledging his
defeat, he turns to his final decision to take his life: “Then they came to the tree from which
Okonkwo’s body was dangling . . .” (207). Although Okonkwo strived to be better than his
father, he ironically leaves this world a replica of his father: a failure.
Although Things Fall Apart interprets the downfall of Okonkwo as tragic, does the novel
hold more meaning when interpreting his suicide as an heroic act of willful resistance rather than
an act of shame? One could argue that his suicide shines in positivity rather than an act of defeat.
Tragic heroes face an unfortunate fate, and that unfortunate fate depends on their existing flaw.
However, God says in Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I
am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right
hand” (NIV). Despite paralyzing fear, God’s righteous hand has the power to change one’s
unfortunate fate to a fortunate future.