Tragic Hero or Coward?
In Achebe’s book Things Fall Apart Okonkwo is arguably made out to be a “coward” due to the killing of the messenger and to himself. Many reader’s don’t see that Okonkwo is no coward at all, but should be considered a “tragic hero”.
In the tribe of Umuofia, Okonkwo is considered to be the “greatest men of his time”(Achebe 8), his characteristics fit the definition of an everyday hero, which is a man of distinguished courage, ability, and thought highly of for his brave deeds and noble qualities. Okonkwo is a well respected man in the tribe and rises to the top very quickly “like a brush-fire in the harmattan”(Achebe 3) and at a young age; he is muscular, vigorous, well respected, and wealthy. Achebe describes him as a man who“had clearly washed his hands and so he ate with the kings and elders”(Achebe 8). But when Okonkwo’s gun explodes and kills Ezeudu’s son, forcing Okonkwo into exile in his mother’s homeland, the reader here begins to see the down fall and start of Okonkwo’s way to changing his role as a well respected man to a “tragic hero”.
According to Aristotle, common characteristics of a tragic hero are,“usually of noble birth,Hamartia: the tragic flaw that eventually leads to his downfall, peripeteia: a reversal of fortune brought about by the hero’s tragic flaw, his actions result in a increase of self-awareness and self-knowledge, and the audience must feel pity and fear for this character.” (Characteristics being being linked to Greek plays such as Oedipus Rex or Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, and various other plays or stories where there is a character in the story that is considered to be a “tragic hero”). Although Okonkwo wasn’t born of a “noble birth” he gains sympathy from the readers early in the book because of his hard work ethic and his determination of not trying to be like his father, who is considered a “failure” in the tribe of Umuofia. Okonkwo’s pride is arguably seen as a flaw which helps Okonkwo in killing Ikefuma. Another argument can be made that Okonkwo’s tragic flaw is his manliness. According to spark notes, “Okonkwo is a tragic hero in the classical sense: although he is a superior character, his tragic flaw—the equation of manliness with rashness, anger, and violence—brings about his own destruction...For this reason, he frequently beats his wives, even threatening to kill them from time to time. We are told that he does not think about things, and we see him act rashly and impetuously.” Achebe’s even mention’s in the story that "He had a slight stammer and whenever he was angry and could not get his words out quick enough, he would use his fists" (Achebe 4). However both characteristics , that are conisidered tragic flaws, tie together to help the reader better understand and help support the characteristics of a tragic hero according to Aristotle.
The moment Okonkwo’s gun explodes and kills the son of Ezeudu’s, the readers begins to see that there is a “reversal in the fortune” in Okonkwo’s life. What many reader’s don’t see is at this point the reader knows more about Okonkwo then he knows about himself. This starts when he arrives at his mother’s homeland, Okonkwo is received warmly from his mother’s homeland and the reader gets a sense that things are going to be ok for Okonkwo and his family. But Okonkwo isn’t happy in being in a place where he is powerless and not wealthy. He feels like his father, Unoka, who is considered a failure, because he is a man who fears not only the sight of blood, but borrows and loses money, and is considered a coward to men in the tribe.
When he arrives in his mother’s tribe and to Okonkwo, it is a big let down. He also feel like he is in a place that he consider’s to be very “womanly”, so Okonkwo struggles to “come to terms with, the feminine side of his personality”.(Achebe) As the years went by and Okonkwo was rising to the top of his mother’s homeland. The reader gets a great example of Okonkwo’s flaws of...
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