Everyone has a flaw, nobody is perfect. Okonkwo had many flaws which qualifies him as a tragic hero. A tragic hero by definition is, “a literary character who makes an error in judgment or has a fatal flaw that, combined with fate and external forces, brings on tragedy.”(Dictionary.com) Whether it is literature of Shakespearean times or the colonization period of world literature, the idea of the tragic hero is integrated throughout all literature. The characteristics of a tragic hero, creates the situation of Okonkwo’s death, in Things Fall Apart. Macbeth’s tragic flaw was his over confidence in himself. Okonkwo’s tragic flaw was his uncontrollable anger issues.
Every tragic hero begins his or her journey with a rise to fame. This aspect is very evident in Things Fall Apart; Okonkwo had quite the celebrity lifestyle, from being able to win a competitive wrestling match against another legendary wrestler.
Okonkwo was well known through out the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements. As a young man of eighteen he had brought honor to his village by throwing the Amalinze the Cat. Amalinze was a great wrestler who for seven years was unbeaten, from Umuofia to Mbaino. He was called the cat because his back would never touch the earth. It was this man that Okonkwo threw in a fight which the old men agreed was the fiercest since the founder of their town engaged a spirit of the wild for seven days and seven nights.(Achebe 7)
The Shakespearean literature of Macbeth also had a main character who was tragic hero, Macbeth. Through Macbeth’s rise to power, he eventually became king. Both Macbeth and Things Fall Apart are exhibiting classic examples of protagonists that are tragic heroes.
One prolonged example of Okonkwo’s anger management problems was Okonkwo’s relationship with Nwoye. Nwoye resembled Okonkwo’s father, Unoka. Unoka was described as a very lazy man, he did not work very hard and he never went to war due to his fear of blood. Okonkwo was determined to do anything he could to resent whatever his father did, because of these disgusted emotions towards his father, Okonkwo was very harsh to Nwoye to resist, him to becoming like his grandfather. Towards the end of the story, Nwoye makes the decision to become a Christian. This action of defiance by Nwoye greatly angers Okonkwo to the point of inflicting physical pain on Nwoye and excommunicating him from the family.
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That was not the first encounter with Okonkwo’s tragic flaw, his emotionally challenged mind state, nor would it be the last. In today’s society women are know for being physically respected, especially by men. It is socially unacceptable in modern society for a man to hit a woman. Physical respect for women is an ideal that many Umofiaian men would challenge. Through the indirect characterization of Okonkwo we see his violent temper and his disrespect for women. “Okonkwo knew she was not speaking the truth. He walked back to his obi to await Ojiugo’s return. And when she returned he beat her heavily. In his anger he had forgotten that it was the Week of Peace.”(Achebe 31) Then to show complete and utter disrespect towards women via Okonkwo and the clan, by only punishing Okonkwo for his violent behavior during the Week of Peace, not referencing the fact that Okonkwo beat a woman. This violent rampant temper of Okonkwo will further proceed to get him into trouble later on in the story.
There are two types of people in this world, those who solve there problems in a calm matter and those who use force to solve their problems. Okonkwo is obviously one of those people who solve their problems with force. “‘If you brings us all this way for nothing I shall beat sense into you’ Okonkwo threatened.”(Achebe 78) Okagbue on the other hand has the ability to sole his problems calmly. “‘I have told you to let her alone. I know how to deal with them,’ said Okagbue.”(Achebe 78) He would almost be the polar opposite of Okonkwo. Although the forceful style of Okonkwo still dose not seem to get him very far in terms of socializing with other people. This forceful association with other people stems from his anger management.
Sometimes as humans we act in a brash manner and do not think about what we are doing before we do it, which can result in extreme consequences. Okonkwo would qualify as one of those people. Towards the end of the story Okonkwo makes a thoughtless decision and kills one of the messengers, through the work of his blood thirsty and exploding emotions. “In a flash Okonkwo drew his machete. The messenger crouched to avoid the blow. It was useless Okonkwo machete descended twice and the man’s head lay beside his uniformed body.”(Achebe 189) These actions of emotional explosion caused sever consequences, and the whole situation could have been prevented if it was not for Okonkwo’s tragic flaw.
Finally, the last characteristic of a tragic hero is that their tragic flaw must lead them to their downfall. Okonkwo’s demise was brought on by his inability to control his feelings. Since Okonkwo killed the messenger, he knew his fate was hopeless, so he committed suicide. “They came to a tree from which Okonkwo’s body was dangling and they stopped dead.”(Achebe 190) Okonwko’s flaw took him directly to his demise even though the book makes no specific reference to why Okonkwo killed himself, we can make inferences due to the situation.
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Okonkwo is a tragic hero because he exhibits all the qualities that a tragic hero should have, a rise to fame and a tragic flaw in the character that leads to their demise. It can be directly related that the flaw in Okonkwo, his in ability to control is emotions intertwined with anger management issues, caused his downfall. Due to Okonkwo’s tragic flaw being something that he could not control, his fame slowly turned into him hanging on a tree trying to escape life with a small fraction of what is left of his pride.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: McDowell, Obolensky, 1959. Print.
Enotes. Web. 3 May 2010. “Tragic Hero.” Dictionary.com. Web. 3 May 2010.
“Tragic Hero.” Dictionary.com. Web. 3 May 2010.
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