According to Aristotle a tragedy is "a drama...which recounts an important and casually related series of events in the life of a person of significance, such events culminating in an unhappy catastrophe, the whole treated with great dignity and seriousness." The novel Things Fall Apart, written by Chinua Achebe begins as a story about the life of a man named Okonkwo. It recounts the events beginning with his childhood and ending with his death. Part I of the novel is about Okonkwo, his family, and the customs and culture of his clan. In Part II the white men came from England, bringing with them their own culture, religion, and government. Part III focuses on the struggle between the clansmen and the missionaries. Okonkwos pride, ambition and overconfidence play a large part in the fight for freedom. According to Arthur Miller, "the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing - his sense of personal dignity... Tragedy, then is the consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly."
In the end of Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo does die for his cause, however whether or not his death can be classified as heroic is debatable. As the village was having a meeting as to what must be done in response to the invasion, they were confronted with five court messengers. The head messenger demanded passage, and was confronted by Okonkwo. When the messenger ordered the meeting to stop, Okonkwo drew his machete and beheaded the man. The next day the district commissioner arrived to take Okonkwo away, only to find that Okonkwo had hung himself. It can be argued that his death came from his "underlying fear of being displaced... his struggle... to gain his 'rightful' position in his society" (Miller). It can be argued that he was too proud, and that the value of his life was too great to be condemned by the white men. A tragic hero "insists on expressing himself even though he must suffer for his self assertion" (Hibbard, Holman, and Thrall). This is true in Okonkwo case. Also, it is said that "the hero is not arbitrarily struck down but has in some way contributed to his fall" (Hibbard, Holman, and Thrall). This is true in that Okonkwo did choose to kill the messenger, and did take his own life. In the novel, Obierika, Okonkwos best friend, relates to the Commissioner how he feels about Okonkwos death;
The way in which Okonkwo took his own life can also lead to the argument that he was no hero, but that he took the easy way out. "The pathetic is achieved when the protagonist is, by virtue of his witlessness, his insensitivity, or the very air he gives off, incapable of grappling with a much superior force" (Miller). It can be agreed that his death was somewhat pathetic as opposed to heroic. It is also hypocritical that Okonkwo worked so hard to be respected and to stand up for his own customs, and yet took his own life, which in the clan was considered an abomination. "It is an offense against the Earth, and a man who commits it will not be buried by his clansmen. His body is evil, and only strangers may touch it" (207). For the tragic hero "the destruction of the body is, however, often accompanied by such enlargement of the spirit that, no matter how awful the consequences of the error, the hero has triumphed over them and subjugated them by his greatness of mind" (Hibbard, Holman, and Thrall). Okonkwos death was quite opposite. His spirit was in no way enlarged, if anything it was diminished. Also greatness of mind was not achieved through his death, and in no way had he triumphed. "His destruction in the attempt posits a wrong or an evil in his environment" (Miller). Instead of Okonkwos death bringing heroism and enlightenment, it only brought evil. He had potential to be a tragic hero, instead he was merely tragic.
Things Fall Apart can most definitely be defined as a tragedy, but the protagonist is not a tragic hero. Though he has many characteristics of the tragic hero, his death falls short of heroism. It could be concluded that Achebe purposely ended Okonkwos life in this way in order to convey to the reader a sense of depravity; to leave the book lacking. The end lacks an ending. The District Commissioner merely mentions that he may be able to use the story of Okonkwo to fill a paragraph of the book he is writing. This statement completely diminishes the importance of Okonkwos life; perhaps in an effort to relate the way that these people and this culture has been tossed away and ultimately forgotten, aside from the occasional