There are many great examples of tragic heroes throughout the wide world of literature but one of the greatest examples would be Okonkwo, the protagonist of Chinua Achebe’s classic novel, Things Fall Apart. A tragic hero would best be defined as a literary character that makes a mistake in judgment or has a fatal flaw that, combined with fate and external forces, brings suffering and defeat upon himself. There are multiple character traits that a tragic hero possesses.
Some of those traits are that the hero is in a position of nobility, has a trait which leads to his downfall, is doomed to make an error in judgment, and he is responsible for his own fate.
This paper will discuss Okonkwo and how he is the archetypal tragic hero. One of the pivotal traits of a tragic hero is that he comes from some type of nobility. Okonkwo fits this bill. Only in his thirties, he is already a leader of the Igbo community of Umuofia.
He is a fierce warrior that already participated in two wars and killed multiple men.
Okonkwo was a revered wrestler, who “As a young man of eighteen … had brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. Amalinze was the great wrestler who for seven years was unbeaten, from Umuofia to Mbaino. ” He was a successful farmer of yams (a manly crop), had three wives and had many children who lived in huts with him on his compound. He was also a fearsome man of considerable size, like it said in the book, “He was tall and huge, and his bushy eyebrows and wide nose gave him a very severe look. ” His titles were held with the greatest esteem.
However, Okonkwo was not always powerful. His father, Unoka, was “lazy and improvident and was quite incapable of thinking about tomorrow. ” He was “a debtor, and he owed every neighbor some money. ” Okonkwo grew up supporting the family in his father’s place. Unoka was, in Okonkwo’s mind, a failure. He vowed to never be womanly and disgraceful like his father, and he worked hard toward and achieved his goal of being on the greatest men in Umuofia. Another important trait of a tragic hero which Okonkwo possesses is that the hero has a trait which leads to his downfall.
In Okonkwo’s case, that trait would be his obsession with making himself look as manly and tough as possible and his rashness and quickness to resort to violence. His father, Unoka, was a weak, womanly man in his eyes, and the failures of his father instilled in him this hate of lazy, weak men. He made it his goal to never show emotion, but rather to be a cold, tough, manly man. As much as he tried to hide it, there are still instances where you can still see emotion in Okonkwo, like his fondness of Ikemefuna and Ezinma. He loves Ezinma the most of all of his children.
He always wished that she “had been a boy. ” Also, when he follows Ekwefi into the forest in pursuit of Ezinma, you could see the loving-father side of Okonkwo. The same also applies to Ikemefuna. Okonkwo liked him better than some of his own children. However, when the time comes, Ikemefuna must be executed. Okonkwo didn’t even have to accompany the men who took Ikemefuna to be executed, but “afraid of being thought weak,” he tags along and he himself ends up killing Ikemefuna. His father was always interested in music and conversation. Okonkwo, because of this, hated conversation.
He was “a man of action, a man of war. ” He never liked to talk about things. When the white men brought Christianity to Umuofia, he opposed it and felt that it was destroying the Igbo culture. These are changes that require compromise and accommodation, both being traits which Okonkwo detested. Okonkwo, being filled with pride, tried to cling to the traditional beliefs. When the whites send a messenger to stop a gathering, Okonkwo, too full of pride and desiring to be viewed as a manly man, does what he does best; engage in rash acts of violence.
He beheads the messenger. His fellow tribesmen, however, back away in fear and he realizes they don’t support him. This trait of quickness to resort to violence and his obsession with manliness and his pride eventually bring about his downfall and suicide. Okonkwo, like many other tragic heroes was doomed to make an error in his judgment. Like stated before, Okonkwo was impulsive and rash and the only means of control he knew of were violence. Violence was the only way he knoew how to control his household, for “Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand.
His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children. ” He especially beat his son Nwoye, who “was then twelve years old but already causing his father great anxiety for his insipient laziness. At any rate, that was how it looked to his father, and sought to correct him by constant nagging and beating. ” Okonkwo hated his father, other lazy men, and any of the traits which his father possessed, like music, emotion, but especially, conversation and compromise. The only thing he knew was violence, not talking things out and compromising.
So almost from the beginning, Okonkwo is doomed to act like himself and lash out in violence against something he believed threatened his culture and his people. Just like with his family, the only act of enforcement he knows is violence and trying to hint to the Christians that they have no place in Umuofia, he beheads the messenger and dooms himself to death. Just like Okonkwo, Oedipus Rex, the protagonist of the play written by Sophocles, was a tragic hero as well. One thing they have in common would be their status. They were looked up to as leaders.
Okonkwo was one of the greatest men in his tribe, and Oedipus was the king of Thebes. They were respected and feared in the eyes of the characters in their book. Okonkwo was a renowned wrestler and warrior, and Oedipus, aside from being the king, answered the riddle of the Sphinx, which ended up saving the city. Another thing they have in common is that they were both responsible for their own fate. Their tragic flaw, arrogance and rashness, which they both possessed, ended up being the cause for both of their downfalls. They dwelled too much in the past, as well.
Okonkwo couldn’t stand the fact that the Igbo society was slowly but surely, vanishing into history because of the recent arrival of the Christians. He believed that the people would support him as they always did, when he decided to decapitate the messenger. When he realized that the people did not approve of his actions, Okonkwo finally realized that he can no longer live in the past. Depressed and mourning the soon-to-be-death of his beloved Igbo society, Okonkwo commits suicide. Due to his arrogance, ignorance, and reluctance to see the truth, he became the tool of his own destruction.
Oedipus lived in the past as well. Just like Okonkwo, he was arrogant and reluctant to understand the truth. Even though Tireseas told Oedipus that “you weave your own doom,” it was hard to convince him that he wasn’t the perfect, superior being that he thought he was. After some time, Oedipus finally addressed that it cannot be denied any longer. He accepts the fact that he killed his father and slept with his mother. He threw his pride aside, accepted his fate, and goes voluntarily into exile. He also gouged out his eyes, making violence another thing that e and Okonkwo have in common. Oedipus was then called upon as an older man to fight, and he died with honor. Okonkwo, however, wasn’t lucky enough to have such an honorable death. All in all, Okonkwo was a perfect example of a tragic hero. He had many of the traits which define a tragic hero, such as being born into nobility, having a tragic flaw, being responsible for his own downfall, etc. He had all of the requirements which summarized one. Backed up by comparison to Oedipus Rex, Okonkwo is definitely what one would call a tragic hero.
Cite this Okonkwo, the Tragic Hero
Okonkwo, the Tragic Hero. (2016, Oct 14). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/okonkwo-the-tragic-hero/