Okonkwo: The Story Of a Tragic Hero

Categories: Tragic Hero

A tragic hero is a literary character that possesses a certain flaw that leads to their own self-destruction. The idea of a “tragic hero” was first presented by Aristotle, an Ancient Greek philosopher. The characteristics of these types of heroes are hamartia, hubris, peripeteia, anagnorisis, and catharsis., and there are many literature works that focus on them. One example is Okonkwo, a character in the book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Okonkwo is a character that is so consumed by his flawed beliefs that it causes him to go through a series of bad decisions that pushes him away from his clan, and eventually leads to his suicide.

To elaborate, in Okonkwo’s eyes, masculinity is seen through strength, hard-work, being respected. As Okonkwo becomes consumed with the idea of never being seen as weak, he begins to make very rash decisions. This is one of the most important characteristics of a tragic hero. It is his fear of being seen as weak that influences events throughout the book.

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One of the biggest situations influenced by his flaw was the murder of Ikemefuna, a boy he treated like his own son. “Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak” . The quote is from the scene where Okonkwo takes part in the murder of the boy he accepted into his family. His fear of being presumed as weak overpowers everything else. This scene in the book demonstrates that Okonkwo would rather kill a fifteen year old boy that he considered his son, than for the village to think he “lacked masculinity” and possessed cowardly traits.

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Furthermore, Okonkwo exhibits many examples of hubris, which is having a lot of pride and a miniscule amount of respect for the natural order. Okonkwo’s pride lies within his many achievements that gained him notoriety within the village, and the fact that he can support three wives who bear his children. “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achieviements” . These are the first two sentences of the book, and they introduce readers to how accomplished Okonkwo is and sets up the perception that he is very prideful and slightly conceited. Another example from the text is on page 11 of the online book and states, “His enemies said his good fortune had gone to his head”. This shows that others thought of him as arrogant because of his attitude about his many accomplishments.

Additionally, the tragic hero goes through a turning point known as peripeteia. The best example of this in Things Fall Apart is Okonkwo’s exile from his village. “It was a crime against the earth goddess to kill a clansman, and a man who committed it must flee from the clan”. The situation is ironic because Ikemefuna went through a similar situation in which he was sent to Okonkwo for the murder of someone in the village. The exile and banishment of Okonkwo for seven years shifted the events of the story that only led to his downfall.

Alongside Okonkwo’s journey as a tragic hero, it begins to come to an end as he undergoes a realization between his clan and him. It happens when Okonkwo ends up killing a messenger and sees that his village will not back him up and fight a war. “He knew that Umofia would not go to war. He knew because they had let the other messengers escape”. This shift in events takes a turn for the worst in regards to Okonkwo’s character and self-identity. He, once again, acts violently as he has done countless times and, in turn, suffered the consequences of his bad decision. This is where the feelings within the reader shift which gives the final element of catharsis into play.

Catharsis is where the readers takes up certain emotions about the main character that may involve pity and empathy for them. In the end, Okonkwo ends up taking his life due to his inability to cope with the things he’d done in his life. “Then they came to the tree from which Okonkwo’s body was dangling. . .” . This shows the tragic end of the life of a character who let his own flaws influence his decisions, which led to his own ruin.

In conclusion, Okonkwo is a tragic hero because his story possesses all the traits of the original elements of Aristotle’s idea. The character possessed a large amount of pride and possessed a flaw that caused a turning point in his life where the only direction he could go was down. It was his own character trait that brought about his own destruction, and that is what makes Okonkwo a tragic hero.

Works cited

  1. Achebe, C. (1958). Things Fall Apart. Heinemann.
  2. Aristotle. (1961). Poetics (I. Bywater, Trans.). Clarendon Press.
  3. Batten, G. M. (2016). Okonkwo as a Tragic Hero in Things Fall Apart. International Journal of English Literature and Culture, 4(5), 69-73.
  4. Ekei, F. (2012). The Concept of Tragedy and the Tragic Hero in Things Fall Apart and Death and the King's Horseman. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 2(10), 23-30.
  5. Emenyonu, E. S. (Ed.). (1997). Emerging Perspectives on Chinua Achebe. Africa World Press.
  6. Gikandi, S. (1991). Chinua Achebe and the Invention of African Literature. University of Chicago Press.
  7. Lavezzo, K. (2012). Introduction: Hubris and Tragedy in Medieval Literature. Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 34(1), 1-15.
  8. Okoye, I. O. (2015). Okonkwo as a Tragic Hero in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. International Journal of Literature and Arts, 3(2), 18-22.
  9. Ooi, A. K., & Cheong, S. (2018). Aristotle's Theory of Tragedy in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, 8(10), 234-240.
  10. Smith, C. A. (1993). "Things Fall Apart" as a Tragic Drama in the Context of Igbo Society and History. Research in African Literatures, 24(2), 45-58.
Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Okonkwo: The Story Of a Tragic Hero. (2024, Feb 09). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/okonkwo-the-story-of-a-tragic-hero-essay

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