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Hubris in Time of the Hero and Thing Fall Apart Essay

In the novels The Time Of The Hero (TTOTH) by Mario Vargas Llosa and Things Fall Apart (TFA) by Chinua Achebe, both writers focus on the idea of hubris and the excessive pride of powerful characters. In fact both the Jaguar (TTOTH) and Okonkwo (TFA) are characters, which represents this idea of Hubris, as they’ve been shaped by their social environment and the notion of manliness and hierarchy. In TFA, Okonkwo respond to the Igbo society through his obsession of being hyper-masculine.

In TTOTH, the Jaguar adapts himself to the violent environment of the academy and the struggle to survive, and even raises himself above the other cadets. In both cases, the writer shows to the reader that the characters’ manliness leads him to the idea of “hubris”, by creating the illusion of an extreme power base around the Jaguar and Okonkwo. However in both novels, the writer also use the idea of femininity as an obstacle for both character’s pride. Furthermore, hubris is also linked to the idea of determinism, as the extreme pride of each character leads him to his own downfall.

In TFA and TTOTH, The idea of Hubris seems to be linked to the pressure of society. In both cases, characters are born into a hierarchical society in which the glorification of manliness and the passion of survival, leads some male characters to excessive pride. In TFA, Chinua Achebe shows the hierarchical spirit between genders in Igbo society. This idea of hierarchy between genders is shown with the distinction between crops, as the “yam”, which is exclusively grown by men, symbolising the tribe’s respect for men’s physical strength.

This same idea of separation of genders is also shown with the difference between men and women crimes, which shows the distinction between powerful men and “weak” women. This clearly shows a hierarchical society in which women are seen as weaker, and men are defined by their physical prowess. Therefore Okonkwo’s obsession for masculinity shows the inescapable force of society in shaping a human character. Okonkwo then seems to be linked to the idea of hubris, as his perception of manliness is far more extreme than the clans’, as he links masculinity with aggression, and devalues everything feminine.

This shows that through his excessive perception of manliness, Okonkwo’s expectations of himself as a masculine power, far exceeds the scope of one being. In TTOTH, the violent environment of the academy is also linked to the glorification of manliness. Like in TFA, there is the idea that one man is respected for his physical prowess, and his will to survive in this vicious hierarchal system, which is foreshadowed by the metaphor of the “Circle”; One “dog” as to survive the ill-treatment of older generations, to finally express his own frustration over the next generations.

In fact the metaphor of young generations to “dogs” is itself relevant of the need that one has to show and to prove his power. This hierarchical system seems to be related to the idea of survival of the fittest, as the Slave’s lack of manpower results in his death. However, the example of the Jaguar in TTOTH is quite similar to Okonkwo’s in TFA, as the Jaguars’ needs to hold power over the other cadets is more extreme than it is for his “comrades”. In fact the Jaguar is clearly linked to hubris through his need to expand his power in the whole academy; over the “dogs”, the older generations or his own comrades.

The notion of pride also seems to be fairly influenced by the paternal relation that characters have with fathers. In TFA, Okonkwo’s relationship with his father surely shapes his violent and ambitious spirit. Okonkwo’s fear of becoming as weak and effeminate as his father, clearly influences the character to become the complete antithesis of all that his father was, making him the extreme hyper-masculine figure. In TTOTH, the writer uses a different image of the “father”, which is more the symbol of authority, and of the pressure that society has over male characters, to make them grow as men.

However the fact that the Jaguar is the son of a poor widow, shows how his relation with Skinny Higueras, is used as a substitute for the paternal relation he didn’t had. This shows how his relation with Skinny and his criminal past, has an influence on his rather violent temperament, and his need to feel superior. It seems that both writers attempt to show the Jaguar and Okonkwo’s extreme pride, to the reader by putting in place an illusion of supreme power. In TFA, the writer seems to show the idea of hubris by putting the reader into an illusion in witch Okonkwo is seen as superhuman, or above other human characters.

This is shown through the association of Okonkwo to “burning fire”, and “flame” throughout the novel. This creates an illusion as the reader then associates Okonkwo to the idea of extreme power, and dissociates him to other human characters. In fact the “fire” clearly symbolizes Okonkwo’s destructive and animalistic personality, as he destroys everything he consumes. In TOOTH, the metaphor of the “jaguar” is used as an illusion to the reader who no longer sees the character as purely human.

This dehumanisation of the character is at some point like Okonkwo in TFA, as the reader sees the character as an emotionless, powerful, destructive figure. Furthermore, the writer’s use of the first person singular, and the fact that it is the jaguar who “named himself” that way, highlights to the idea of hubris, as on some level, its seems like the illusion of extreme power is in fact the perception that the character has of himself. In both novels, the writer demonstrates at some point that each man has something feminine inside him, which in the case of a hyper masculine figure, acts as a threat to his extreme pride.

In TFA, Okonkwo’s exile to his motherland, in response to his “women crime”, clearly represents an obstacle to the character’s pride. This is not only an issue for Okonkwo’s image as a virile warrior; this is even more a threat to the characters’ personality, as it is the opportunity to get in touch with his feminine side. In fact Okonkwo’s pride in his masculinity, seems to be challenged throughout the novel, by his hidden femininity. In fact his son Nwoye, is used by the writer as a constant reminder of Okonkwo’s feminine part that he cannot get rid of.

In TTOTH, the Jaguar’s weakness also seems to be symbolised by the feminine figure of Teresa. In fact the scene on the beach is relevant to the Jaguar’s true personality, as he is no longer seen as an emotionless character, but rather as a more human character, through the jealousy he feels toward Teresa. Therefore the writer uses the female figure as a rupture between the image of the powerful “Jaguar” of the academy, and the sensible teenager. However when the Jaguar insults Teresa after he sees her with some other boys, this also shows how the jealousy he feels is in fact seen as an enormous threat to his pride.

Therefore both writers use the idea of femininity as a constant reminder of the hidden weakness that the character tries to reject. Finally, in both novels there is the idea that hubris is linked to determinism, as both characters seems to lead themselves to their own downfall. In TFA, Okonkwo’s choice of a life of anger, dominated by his obsession of being a hyper-masculine figure, is what makes him a character, which is quite unbalanced. In fact in chapter 17and 24 the writer shows that Okonkwo is not blind but rather conscientious as he acknowledge that the fire inside him destroys everything it consumes, including him.

Furthermore, by destroying himself physically at the end of the novel, it can be argued that on some level he has also destroyed most of his pride, as the act of suicide shows the emasculation of the character on some level. In TTOTH the Jaguars’ tyrannical behaviour over the other members of the academy, is finally reflected on himself at the end of the novel, as he is beaten by a group of cadets. Therefore there is an idea of a reverse situation in each case; on one hand, Okonkwo’s act of suicide is quite surprising and deceiving for such a character who kept showing himself as the extreme figure of manliness.

On the other hand, there is the imagery of the tyrant being overthrown. However, even though that both characters seems to end up revealing their secret and truer nature (in comparison to the image that they have of themselves), they still keep most of their pride. In TFA, Okonkwo’s suicide can be seen on one side as an act of emasculation, however on the other hand Okonkwo still keeps most of his pride by refusing to submit himself to the Christians until the end of his life. In TTOTH, the Jaguar never submits himself to the other cadets, even when everyone is against him.

In fact when the other cadets falsely accuse the Jaguar, he still keep his pride, and still sees himself as better than them, even know that he no longer has power over the others. Furthermore, it can be argued that the final act of both characters has a heroic dimension, which still makes them proud character until the end. In conclusion, in both novels the writer focuses on the idea of hubris by showing characters whose expectations of themselves far exceeds the scope of one being.

In fact both, Okonkwo and the Jaguar are characters shaped and extremely well adapted to their social environment, which is surely a main cause of their excessive pride. However, both writers also seems to link the notion of hubris to determinism as the choice of both characters to live in hubris, leads them to their own social downfall, and in the case of Okonkwo; to his own destruction. Nevertheless, both characters still hold to their pride, as they remain faithful to their own opinion, even during their downfall.


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