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Things Fall Apart is an intriguing story of how an Indian tribe is cultivated and one man's pride brings him down. Okonkwo is flawed but has a desire to do good for his clan. As the protagonist the clan's conflict is sought out by Okonkwo and his excessive pride. Building his compound from nothing, Okonkwo demands authority and power amongst his fellow clansmen. By the end of the story Okonkwo is unwilling to compromise due to his pride and is brought down by it even though he has a good clan stature and power. Okonkwo is a tragic hero and fulfils all the qualifications to be considered one.
There are four criteria of a tragic hero, which shape the character's fate. The character must be flawed but have the potential or want to do good, and have a lot of pride. Conflict is attempted to be resolved by the hero because they are often the protagonist. A protagonist is a leading character that is used to influence the direction of the plot. The tragic hero has opportunity, wealth, or power. In the end the tragic hero's quality of excessive pride will bring him down and the opposite of what the reader thinks will happen does indeed occur.
Okonkwo is the son of Unoka, who was a very lazy and worthless man who held no tribe titles and did not look after his family. Many people knew Unoka as this and his name was soiled. He borrowed lots of money from friends and deceived them by not so much as attempting to repay them. Having been born at this disadvantage Okonkwo had to work extra hard to have a normal lifestyle or even to rise above that as a leader in the Umuofia clan. "Okonkwo did not have the start in life which many young men usually had. He did not inherit a barn from his father. There was no barn to inherit"(Achebe, 19). This quote exploits Okonkwo's father as a failure and defines Okonkwo as a tragic hero not because of his low birth status but because of the internal hatred it creates in him. He becomes cold hearted to anything weak or lazy and can not easily be pleased with anything. Later his son Nwoye leaves him because of his harsh treatment, even though Okonkwo had good intentions. Nwoye attended the Christian church and was brutally beaten when asked where he had been.
A neighboring tribe committed a crime against the Umuofia clan and Okonkwo was sent as a messenger to lay out options. "And such was the deep fear that their enemies had for Umuofia that they treated Okonkwo like a king and brought him a virgin who was given to Udo as wife, and the lad Ikemefuna" (Achebe, 59). Okonkwo is very strong and his chi agrees with him making him more powerful. He is aggressive and respected due to his pride and confidence that he carries about himself. This leads him to be uncompromising and violent, but he uses these qualities for what he thinks is good.
Although Okonkwo turns to violence for many things he is the protagonist and attempts to face the conflict of the Christians pulling the clan apart. He takes authority to lead the clan against the Christians by killing a messenger. This shows his heroism to be a strong leader and do what is best for his clan. Okonkwo yearns for authority to head the clans direction and war activity. "In those seven years of he would have climbed to the utmost heights. And so he regretted everyday of his exile" (Achebe, 151). Being in exile kept him from leading the clan and acquiring maximum power over his fellow clansmen. With his desired authority he could face this conflict and be a great leader.
The storyline closely follows Okonkwo and all his decisions and the events that he goes through. It covers all the minor conflicts such as the position he was born into, his ogbaine child, and his exile. As the protagonist he overcomes these minor conflicts and heads the plot. His final conflict with the Christians is the only conflict that he does not overcome.
Okonkwo is not born with extravagant wealth or power, but he soon earns it at a young age by throwing the cat and becoming a famous and respected wrestler. He works hard farming and prepares land on which to grow yams. When he asks for yam seeds to start his own farm his name is already respected and he is granted more than what he expected. Okonkwo creates a great compound and begins to earn titles and wives, and soon becomes a very powerful man. "Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak" (Achebe, 59). Even when he faces losing a loved one Okonkwo does not bow to emotions and simply kills his so called son. The boy Ikemefuna called Okonkwo father and they respected each other, but Okonkwo still slays him. Also, Okonkwo did not have to be the one to kill the boy but he did so to show his strength and manliness to everyone so that no one will ever question his abilities and power. Clearly amongst the clan Okonkwo has risen up and beyond others and flaunted his strength and power. He has a large compound where he works diligently to increase his crop production and exceed needed amounts. In ceremonies Okonkwo leads and influences major decisions such as the white men. Amongst his large compound Okonkwo has an obi for each of his three wives. He keeps them in line and never lets any weakness or emotion give way to them. Everything is run in tip top conditions and things are never seen as done to him. In times of festivals Okonkwo feels weak simply because he is not working on his farm and is just sitting around or doing minor work for preparations. His status and power is very important to him and he continually trys to improve and keep it up. Authority is what Okonkwo lives for, it is a great life success and he wishes the same goals for his son. Nwoye is not as hardworking as Okonkwo but certainly is not lazy, but he is closely related to Okonkwo and so Okonkwo cares very much about what his son's image is and how it will reflect on him. Okonkwo has a lot of power and wealth which he strives to withhold.
Okonkwo is filled with pride and self dignity, which pulls him ahead in his clan but will bring him down in the end. This is a quality of a tragic hero which Okonkwo dills the description of. "In a flash Okonkwo drew his machete. The messenger crouched to avoid the blow. It was useless. Okonkwo's machete descended twice and the man's head lay beside his uniformed body" (Achebe, 188). When the messengers came and ordered the meting to stop Okonkwo because furious. As the big man with authority he took it into his hands to see to it that the clan's affairs were uninterrupted. His pride and image of power forced him to stand up and be the line of defense and the spokesperson for the clan. With a swipe of his blade Okonkwo beat down the clan threat and pronounced his authority. However after leading the attack none of his fellow clansmen followed his lead. They did not think it was proper at the time or anytime now to physically stand up to the Christians. No one else had as much pride for their clan to be so unreasonable with the Christians so Okonkwo was left by himself with no support all because of his excessive pride. Okonkwo knows that the clan is doomed and so he hangs himself which is an abomination to the clan. By doing this Okonkwo throws out anything he has worked for in life. The clan will not follow him and now he will be tried by the white men. Nothing is worth living for because his people can no longer live up to his expectations and his standard of pride, which has made him an outcast and brought him down.
Okonkwo is flawed by his excessive pride and need for everything to be perfect, but he has good intentions. As the white men come and spread Christianity amongst his people he faces them making him the protagonist. He earns tribal titles and commands authority, power, and wealth. When everyone else in his clan is compromising with the Christians, Okonkwo defies them and lets his pride run wild which ruins him in the end. Okonkwo is a tragic hero and leads the story of his clan.