Is Okonkwo a Tragic Hero in Things Fall Apart?

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Things Fall Apart is a novel written by Chinua Achebe. The setting is during the late 19th, early 20th century in a village named Umuofia in Nigeria. When reading this novel the time period is important because it was a period in colonial history when the British were increasing their influence economically, culturally, and politically in Africa. The novel is about the rise and fall of Okonkwo, a man from the village of Umuofia. Throughout the novel Oknokwo is shown as a tragic hero. Okonkwo is a leader and hardworking member of his community, whose tragic flaw is his great fear of weakness and failure. Okonkwo’s fall from grace in the Igbo community lead to suicide, which makes Okonkwo a tragic hero by definition. Okonkwo rises to the honorable and successful leader of Umuofia. In the novel “Things Fall Apart” Okonkwo is the tragic hero because he shows a tragic flaw of fear, of weakness, and failure that leads to his suicude.

Okonkwo struggles with fear and uses that fear to become stronger. He struggles with the fear of becoming like his father, the fear of looking weak, and the fear of his children not becoming like him through his words. Okonkwo says “I will not have a son who cannot hold up his head in the gathering of the clan” (Achebe 33). This shows that Okonkwo really wants his son to understand the traditions of the clan that they are a part of. He wants Ikemefuma, his son, to go along with it. Okonkwo fears that he is becoming like his father and he can not stop thinking about it. “He fears for himself he will not become like his father” (Achebe 10). He is afraid of becoming a man who dies without owning anything of value. Okonkwo is terrified of becoming lazy and growing up to be the person his father was.

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Okonkwo is a fighter, a hard-worker, and a highly motivated man. His weakness is that he is afraid of change, he has a short temper, and he is stubborn. The most important thing is that Okonkwo's strengths are the guideline to his weaknesses. Okonkwo’s shame for his father motivates him to be everything his father was not. As a result, Okonkwo hides behind his strength and hides his emotions, hoping to escape from that weakness. Okonkwo makes rash decisions to maintain his reputation. Which affects his tribe and his family. An example of this is, “As each son rejects the example of his father, these three generations form a reactionary cycle that ironically repeats itself: when Nwoye rejects Okonkwo's masculinity, he ironically returns to the more feminine disposition that Okonkwo originally rejected in his father” (Bennett, Robert ). This is showing that his weakness is from his sons not becoming like him. Since his sons rejected Okonkwo he goes back to becoming feminine, and that is his weakness.

Okonkwo is a man who comes into conflict against himself to prove himself worthy of his tribe, but his failure is becoming like his father. Okonkwo’s greatest fear is becoming like his father. “...his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weakness…(Achebe 13). Okonkwo was driven by the fear of failing because he did not want to end up like his father. In Okonkwo’s eyes his father was lazy and did not accomplish anything in life and Okonkwo does not want to end up like that. In my opinion Okonkwo is so afraid of becoming his father it makes him somewhat actually become his father. An example of this is, “When one of Okonkwo's wives goes gossiping instead of preparing his evening meal, we understand why Okonkwo feels the need to beat her—not the reaction we might have to identical events in Carson McCullers. When Okonkwo's son challenges his father's opinions, or Okonkwo's daughter falls dangerously ill, we understand Okonkwo's irritation that chattels and possessions are making emotional claims with which he is not equipped to cope” (McLeish, Kenneth). His fear of failure makes him so crazy he does these things to himself and his family. Which ultimately makes him a failure. When he took his own life he was a failure because he had given up.

In conclusion, all of Okonkwo’s features make him a tragic hero. Everything he does makes him out to be a tragic hero. The definition of tragic hero is the protagonist of a tragedy in dramas. Everything Okonkwo did and lived through and leading up to his suicide was a tragedy. The main and worst tragedy was his death. Following the violence in which he kills a European messenger who tries to stop a meeting among clan elders, he realizes that he is no longer in sync with his society. No one applauds his actions, and he sees that he is the only one who wishes to go to war with the Europeans. This novel shows Okonkwo’s tragic flaw of fear, of weakness, and failure. All in all, Okonkwo was a tragic hero in the novel “Things Fall Apart”.

Works Cited

  2. Bennett, Robert. 'An overview of Things Fall Apart.' Literature Resource Center, Gale, 2020. Gale Literature Resource Center, Accessed 12 Apr. 2020
  3. McLeish, Kenneth. 'Things Fall Apart: Overview.' Reference Guide to English Literature, edited by D. L. Kirkpatrick, 2nd ed., St. James Press, 1991. Gale Literature Resource Center, Accessed 12 Apr. 2020.
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Is Okonkwo a Tragic Hero in Things Fall Apart? (2021, September 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 25, 2024, from
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