Okonkwo: a Tragic Hero in Chinua Achebe’s "Things Fall Apart"

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 647 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Jun 13, 2024

Words: 647|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Jun 13, 2024

Table of contents

  1. The Classical Attributes of a Tragic Hero
  2. Personal and Cultural Forces
  3. The Consequences of Rigidity
  4. Conclusion

In Chinua Achebe’s seminal work, "Things Fall Apart," the protagonist, Okonkwo, stands as a representative of the traditional Igbo society and its values. Through his life and ultimate downfall, Achebe intricately crafts Okonkwo as a tragic hero. This essay explores Okonkwo’s tragic heroism by examining the classical attributes of a tragic hero, the cultural and personal forces driving his actions, and the consequences of his rigid adherence to tradition. Okonkwo's story is a poignant reflection on the complexities of cultural transition and the personal tragedies that accompany it.

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The Classical Attributes of a Tragic Hero

In classical literature, a tragic hero is a character of noble stature who is destined for downfall, suffering, or defeat. Aristotle’s concept of the tragic hero includes several key characteristics: a noble birth, a tragic flaw (hamartia), a reversal of fortune (peripeteia), and the hero's recognition of the consequences of their actions (anagnorisis). Okonkwo embodies these elements in various ways.

Firstly, Okonkwo’s noble status in the Igbo society is established through his achievements and his position as a respected leader and warrior in Umuofia. His reputation is built on his personal prowess and his rigid adherence to the values of masculinity and strength. However, his tragic flaw is his overwhelming fear of weakness and failure, which stems from his disdain for his father, Unoka, who was considered weak and unsuccessful. This fear drives Okonkwo to make irrational and often harsh decisions, contributing to his eventual downfall.

Personal and Cultural Forces

Okonkwo’s actions are deeply influenced by the cultural values and expectations of the Igbo society. The Igbo culture places a high premium on strength, masculinity, and success, all of which Okonkwo strives to embody. His fear of being perceived as weak, like his father, propels him to extreme measures to assert his dominance and control. This is evident in his treatment of his family, his participation in the killing of Ikemefuna, and his inability to adapt to the changing dynamics brought about by the arrival of the Europeans.

The arrival of the Europeans introduces a significant cultural shift that challenges the traditional Igbo way of life. Okonkwo’s inability to adapt to these changes further exacerbates his downfall. His rigid adherence to traditional values leaves him unable to navigate the complexities of the new societal order. This cultural collision is a crucial force that propels Okonkwo towards his tragic end, highlighting the broader theme of cultural disintegration that Achebe explores in the novel.

The Consequences of Rigidity

Okonkwo’s downfall is precipitated by his inability to reconcile his personal values with the changing realities of his society. His refusal to compromise or adapt is seen in his reaction to the colonization of Umuofia. Okonkwo’s return from exile to find his village under the influence of the white missionaries is met with anger and a desperate attempt to reclaim the old ways. His decision to kill a colonial messenger is a culmination of his resistance to change, leading to his ultimate isolation and demise.

The tragic recognition (anagnorisis) in Okonkwo’s story comes too late. He realizes that the society he once knew has irrevocably changed, and his place within it is lost. His suicide is both a personal act of defiance and a symbol of his ultimate failure to protect his cultural heritage. In the end, Okonkwo’s tragic heroism lies in his steadfast commitment to his values, despite the personal and societal costs.

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Okonkwo’s journey in "Things Fall Apart" is a powerful exploration of the tragic hero archetype within the context of cultural upheaval. Through Okonkwo, Achebe illustrates the complexities of individual and cultural identity, the consequences of inflexible adherence to tradition, and the profound impact of colonialism on indigenous societies. Okonkwo’s tragic flaw—his fear of weakness—coupled with the inexorable changes brought by European colonization, leads to his inevitable downfall. In the end, Okonkwo embodies the essence of a tragic hero: a noble character undone by his own flaws and the inexorable forces of change.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Okonkwo: A Tragic Hero in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”. (2024, Jun 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from
“Okonkwo: A Tragic Hero in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”.” GradesFixer, 13 Jun. 2024,
Okonkwo: A Tragic Hero in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 23 Jul. 2024].
Okonkwo: A Tragic Hero in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jun 13 [cited 2024 Jul 23]. Available from:
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