By definition, a hero is a person who characteristically portrays ability or great strength and more so adored for his achievements. Moreover, Aristotle describes a hero as a person who exhibits nobility in his nature even when he discovers his fate through his own actions. Undoubtedly, Okonkwo befits all the above descriptions not only because he has the bravery and shows self-motivation, but also because he is the main protagonist whom the reader is made to focus on by the author. Moreover, Okonkwo as a respected leader in Umuofia still has tragic flaws and as such discovers his fate as a result of his actions.
Okonkwo from Chinua Achebe’s things fall apart is a hero in various ways as portrayed in the book. Notably, Aristotle defines a hero as a noble person. As such, “Okonkwo is famous throughout the village because of what he has achieved “through his hard work (Achebe).”Indeed, he begins working as a sharecropper having inherited nothing from his father and worked his way to be one of the most respected men in Umuofia. Relatively, he is married to three wives who have borne him many children. He continues to earn respect from his clan and beyond as a result of his many achievements.
For instance, when he is just 18 years old, he defeats Amalinze the cat who has held the unbeaten tag for seven years. Additionally, he is one of the nine village judges known as Ewugwu who are believed to be descendants of ancestors. Such achievements earn him a high status within the village and at one time, he is selected as part of the committee that is sent to Mbaino village as a negotiation team on the murder of a girl at Mbaino market. These series of responsibilities clearly depict Okonkwo as a hero, despite his fate turning tragic later in the story.
Okonkwo easily comes back with a boy and a virgin girl who serve as consolation for the murder and solves the conflict amicably without “incidences of violence (Achebe)”. Indeed, Okonkwo mirrors the traditions of his clan as he is an outstanding figure who at times is the voice of the clan. For instance, as a member of the Eguwugwu, he occasionally takes on the role of impersonating the gods.
Moreover, he is a representative of one of the chiefs of the clan who is mostly summoned by the district commissioner. In an incidence where he is whipped by the colonialists, his bitterness resonate well with a majority of the clan members who have a feeling that this is disrespectful not only to Okonkwo but the entire clan. Certainly, he represents the clan with all good and bad aspects. The fact that everyone feel remorseful to his plight implies that he is a well-respected man, who is held in the high regard and esteem.
Despite his achievements and status in society, he has a tragic flaw as he loathes weakness and failure. Although these fears drive him to even work harder, they also corrupt him as a person and in many cases, he treats those who show signs of weakness or failure with a harsh and violent attitude. He is particularly harsh towards the members of his family as he does not want them to see him as a frail person.
Additionally, his only way of solving problems is through violence and strength, an attitude that puts him at crossways with members of his family many times. For instance, he “batters his youngest wife during the week set aside for peace which is against the clan rule.” Moreover, he almost shoots his second wife, which nearly leads to a fatality. Ultimately, Okonkwo kills the Node’s friend, Ikemefuna who had only asked for his help for the same reasons of not wanting to be “thought weak (Achebe).” By show strength, he becomes overly harsh and ends up weakening his relationship with his wives and his brother. Conversely, he ends up hurting himself mentally. The culmination of his impulsive behavior led him to kill a messenger sent by the British later in the book.
Furthermore, Okonkwo’s moment of self-realization begins when he returns to the village from exile after seven years. To his dismay, the village has changed a lot since he left and in no time realizes he is no longer as influential and important as he was before his exile. Contrary to his expectations, his arrival attracts little attention and he soon discovers his place in the Egwugwu was taken by another man immediately he left for his exile.
Besides, he realizes that he has to wait for another two years before his sons can be initiated into the ozo society. Notably, he soon discovers that colonialists have not only established themselves in the village but they have also built a school and a church. These are the main avenues through which the white men use to turn the Igbo people away from their traditions and subsequently attacking their faith and customs. Displeased by the situation, he persuades the clan to employ violent measures to chase colonialists out of Umuofia. However, the clan does not entirely agree with him as some of the clan members are supportive of the white man.
Although there is no conflict between these two groups, disagreements arise from time to time such as burning of the church and unmasking of Egwugwu. At one point, the white men hold a deceptive meeting that leads to the capturing and “humiliation of 5 clan members among them Okonkwo.” Arguably, through all these events, Okonkwo is yet to discover his tragic fate.
Ultimately, the moment when he discovers his fate arrives when five members of the British court are sent to discontinue a clan meeting. To this regard, Okonkwo takes it upon himself to behead one of the members hoping that the rest of the clan members will join him in killing the rest of the court members.
However, none of the other clan members goes after the other court members as they flee from the scene. At this point, he discovers that Umuofia is not willing to go “war with the white man (Achebe 144).” Having realized that there is no way to defeat the white man and drive him out of the village, Okonkwo results in hanging himself which is an abomination according to the Igbo traditions.
Conversely, Okonkwo’s upbringing arguably sets him up for his tragedy. Notably, Umuofia prides itself as one of the strongest and bravest clans. Relatively, the men who show the most courage and valor during the war and work the hardest during times of peace are held with the highest degree of respect. Coming from this clan, Okonkwo makes it his mission to be a respectable member of the clan.
At one time, a villager complements him “that he was pleased to see a young man like him at a time when most of his age mates had gone soft (Achebe).” Notably, men like nowise and his father who prefer a peaceful lifestyle and enjoy music have no status in society. However, he seems to thrive on the stamping his authority and ends up crossing the line when he becomes estranged in his own house.
Although the book portrays Okonkwo as a victim in the last part, we should not forget that he is still the protagonist and consequently the hero of the book. His tragedy can allude to that of European plays such as Othello. Furthermore, he commands respect, has a relatively good life and most importantly, he abides by the rules and principles held sacred and immutable by the clan. Arguably, living by his extensive pride, which is publicly encouraged by the clan eventually brings him down. At one point, “he compliments himself saying that he survived before and he would do it again (Achebe)”. This pride makes him harsh and callous towards others including his family while at the same time he hides inner feelings from the rest of the world.
Conversely, he goes to the extent of disrespecting religious views of the clan on several occasions due to his pride. One can argue that the downfall of Okonkwo is indeed tragic because his pride and beliefs were as a result of forelaid societal rules. In the end, the reader is left sympathizing with Okonkwo even after the negativity that has been around him.
In conclusion, every human being has some pride in them that from time results in regrettable actions. Suffice to say, this makes the reader sympathize with Okonkwo despite his mistakes. Notably, he has accomplished so much yet, in the end, it feels like he has lost everything due to his choices in the past. At this point, it is clear he is a tragic hero.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. S.l., 2018. Print.