The novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe has been influenced by Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. The protagonists of both these works are similar because Okonkwo and Oedipus are both successful, they both have a flawed character, and they both experience a demise.
Things Fall Apart’s protagonist Okonkwo and Oedipus Rex’s Oedipus are similar in that they are both successful. Both of these characters, Okonkwo and Oedipus, are both famous, well known, and their people admired them. In the book Things Fall Apart, the narrator said, “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on personal achievements” (3). At the beginning of Things Fall Apart the villages, and the Igbo people valued personal strength. In Oedipus Rex, the priest says, “Oedipus, our king, most powerful in all men’s eyes, we’re here as suppliants, all begging you to find some help for us” (lines 46-48) shows how his people believe that he is the “most powerful in all men’s eyes” because he had previously saved the city. The author, Chinua Achebe, makes Okonkwo similar to Oedipus in this way because this would create a greater climax. When everything goes downhill for Okonkwo, the feeling of tragedy and doom would be exacerbated because he was great in the beginning. If the character was mediocre, the effect would be less effective. Oedipus proves to be a great man because he “freed the city from the tribute they were paying to that cruel singer” (line 41-42). He single-handedly solved the city’s problem with the Sphinx. As a ruler, he is kind to his people and this is shown in the play when he says, “What feelings brings you to me – fear or desire? You can be confident that I will help. I shall assist you willingly in every way. I would be a hard-hearted man indeed if I did not pity suppliants like these” (lines 11-15). Okonkwo is not a ruler, but he plays a significant role in his community. As a leader in his community, he rules with strength and not with generosity. In the beginning of the novel, the narrator said, “That was many years ago, twenty years or more, and during this time Okonkwo’s fame had grown like a bush-fire in the harmattan” (3). And this fame stemmed from the fact that he “brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat” (3). Both of these characters, Oedipus and Okonkwo, experienced success and fame because of their actions and their personal strength. Oedipus saved the town from the Sphinx, while Okonkwo beat a powerful fighter.
Additionally, Okonkwo and Oedipus share a similar temperament – they both have tempers. They both experienced success through their own hands, and as a result, they are prideful. Oedipus displays his temper and his short-fuse when he murders a stranger because they tried to force him off the road. “In my rage, I lashed out at the driver, who was shoving me aside” (line 969-970) shows his volatility. When Teiresias says he is the murderer, he displays his anger once again when he says, “Get out, and pray the plague get rid of you! Off with you! Now!” (lines 518-520). He is even angrier when he believes Creon to be the conspirator. Even though Creon served him loyally and he is the brother to Jocasta. He even defends himself by saying that he does not want the throne because he has everything he could ever want already. Similar to Oedipus, Okonkwo has an even greater temper. He is known to act first because at the beginning of the novel, the narrator said, “He did pounce on people quite often. He had a slight stammer, and whenever he was angry and could not get his words out quickly enough, he would use his fists” (4). He would first jump to action and think about the consequences later, and this would always lead to trouble. Okonkwo is a man of action and he does not care about the Goddess because his temper was more important. He believes in his strength because if he does not, he would think himself weak. “But Okonkwo was not the man to stop beating somebody half-way through, not even for fear of a goddess” (3) displays how temper overcomes his rationality. Once he decides on doing something, he rushes headfirst into what he decided. All of Okonkwo’s actions and consequences stem from his temper, and Oedipus reacts with anger most of the time because he finds the truth ridiculous.
Okonkwo and Oedipus’s personality is important factors because their attitudes towards their situation leads them to their inevitable fate. In the beginning, Oedipus was prideful because he believes that he can help his people despite any obstacles like how he solved the Sphinx problem. He believes that as a ruler, he should help his suppliants, and as a result, he looks for the truth. Despite being warned several times by several different people not to pursue the truth, he ends up doing so with doggedness. His pride makes him want to learn the truth with his own efforts. Through his efforts, he realizes that he had fulfilled the ultimate destiny of killing his father and marrying his mother. Okonkwo was similarly prideful because he was confident in his strength. At the beginning, the narrator mentions that he is known to pounce first a lot. And because of his pounce first mentality, he “drew his machete…and the man’s head lay beside his uniformed body” (204). He ends up being stuck in an irrecoverable position because he killed the messenger. He did not support the direction that his community was taking and as a result he acted first. This action would eventually lead him to take his own life by hanging. Their pride and fierce temper penetrate through logic, and this plays a part in their tragedy.
The protagonists also share a similarity in the fact that they both experience a bad ending. Oedipus, towards the end of the play, takes drastic action and blinds himself because he finds out that he had married his mother and fathered several children from her. He had also found out that he had killed his father. Oedipus says, “In my wretched life, why should I have eyes when there was nothing sweet for me to see?” (lines 1331-1334) when he sees Jocasta’s body. Okonkwo, similarly, experiences a bad ending. He killed the messenger, and he knows that there would be a punishment, so he ends up killing himself. “Then they came to the tree from which Okonkwo’s body was dangling, and they stopped dead” (207) shows that Okonkwo did not want to be punished by them and he took matters into his own hands. A difference, however, is that Oedipus chose to live because he realized that he was a sinner and that he is going to punish himself. Okonkwo, however, kills himself because he did not want to deal with the legal consequences of killing the messenger.
Another difference is between the relationships of the protagonists between the other characters. Oedipus remains filial to his foster parents, while Okonkwo is not filial to his father. Oedipus was distraught over his destiny because he learns that he would end up killing his father and marrying his mother. He ends up leaving his home because he feared it so much. “When Unoka died, he had taken no title at all, and he was heavily in debt. Any wonder then that his son Okonkwo was ashamed of him?” (8) shows Okonkwo’s ashamed feelings. He ends up believing that his father is inferior and he is “ashamed of him”, therefore he wanted nothing to do with him. His community, at least, “judges a man according to his worth and not according to the worth of his father” (8). He wanted to be strong and being strong means that anything weak would need to be corrected. “Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak” (61) is the scene where Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna. As Ikemefuna.was screaming “My father, they have killed me” (61), Okonkwo callously executes him. This is an example of Okonkwo hating the fact that his people would think he is weak. Additionally, it is said in the novel that “He did not cry” (61), because crying would mean that he is weak. However, Oedipus is the opposite. He values his children and he loves Jocasta. When he did not know that she was his mother, Oedipus treats her with respect and listens.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and Oedipus Rex by Sophocles are works of literature that are similar. Things Fall Apart draws influence from Oedipus through the character parallels and the character’s downfall. However, even though they are similarities, there are also differences. There are differences in the way that Okonkwo decides to accept his fate compared to Oedipus. There are also differences between their relationships with their close family. Sophocles made Oedipus live despite his tragedy because of his acceptance. Oedipus accepts that he made a grave error and that he would need to live with it for the rest of his life. However, Okonkwo does not accept his mistake in the way that Oedipus does. Okonkwo believes that he is right and the reason as to why he hung himself was to escape from the inevitable punishment that would be given to him for murdering the messenger. He could not accept the conclusion, and he does not believe that he was wrong, which is why he commits suicide. Despite the indication of influence from Oedipus Rex and the similarities, Things Fall Apart also has differences because of the difference in culture and life.