Things Fall Apart

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade November 2001

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Tragic Hero In Chinua Achebe's modern day classic, Things Fall Apart, the main character Okonkwo is the quintessential example of a tragic hero. Okonkwo is a good man, with only one fatal flaw, his tendency to be "inward" with his emotions, as stated repeatedly in the novel.

There are many occurrences and factors that may have possibly contributed to Okonkwo's personality. Sadly, they almost all revolve around Okonkwo's father, Unoka. In the novel, many instances occurred that displayed Unoka's impudence. First, when Okoye comes to Unoka to rightfully request his repayment, Unoka laugh's and tells him he will first pay off those whom he owes more. This is just one example of Unoka's personality, but an accurate one still. He is carefree, and would rather play his flute than work for himself and his family. Also, Unoka's death was even a disgraceful one. In Nigeria at the time, certain diseases were considered embarrassing, and he was banished to die in the forest.

This example is obviously not Unoka's fault, but it doesn't matter to Okonkwo. Either way, he is seen to be the son of the man who was left to die in the forest. Finally, unlike most young men in his society, when he became a man he did not receive a farm from his father, simply because there wasn't one to give. Okonkwo was forced to start from nothing, but still survived. He learned to be a fighter early on, especially after losing his first harvest of yams.

There are many examples of Okonkwo's anger and gruff outbreaks, but there are also times when he is shown to have some sort of a heart. When he learns his daughter is dying from iba, or a fever, he most definitely shows signs of emotion or love. It took Ekwefi six tries to have Ezinma, who was said to be an ogbanje, a child who born but then sent back to the mother's womb. Also, Okonkwo's appears to have the closest relationship with Ekwefi, and when she feels pain, it's poignancy touches Okonkwo too. However, Okonkwo would not be a tragic hero if it were not for his flaw, his inability to show his feelings the majority of the time. One of the most blatantly obvious examples of this is when Ikemefuna is sentenced to die. After spending three years with Ikemefuna, Okonkwo has become quite close with him, regarding him as his own son. Yet, when the time comes, Okonkwo's is ultimately the one who ends up killing Ikemefuna. Another example of Okonkwo's self-deprecating personality is when he says to himself, "How can a man who has killed five men in battle fall to pieces because he has added a boy to their number? Okonkwo, you have become a woman indeed." (p. 65) Okonkwo should rightfully feel guilt and sorrow, but he thinks of himself as a woman for showing these human emotions. He even tells himself that killing a boy is nothing, to make himself feel better and to show his masculinity.

Okonkwo has the potential to be a wonderful character in a fabulous literary work. However, because of his one tragic flaw, he will never be one. Okonkwo is strong, determined, eager, and willing to work. Yet, he refuses to take a part of anything happy and carefree, and does not tolerate those close to him to do so also. Because of his father's carefree spirit, Okonkwo was ruined forever. Ultimately, it caused his unfortunate death. Still, this cannot be entirely blamed on Unoka. While he was not the ideal father, he was probably better than Okonkwo. By trying his hardest to be unlike his father, he became even more like him, he became a failure. He failed in a different way, but it is all the same in the end.