A tragic hero is defined as a moral character in a dramatic tragedy who is destined for defeat. In the novel Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo, the main character, despite his honorable status, his fear of failure and being viewed as weak, brings his own destruction. Okonkwo is a powerful clan leader in the Igbo tribe. His hard work and skill in war has earned him a high status position in his clan. His embarrassment about his lazy father has driven his tragic flaw that he is scared of being looked at as weak. As a result he reacts impetuously, bringing much sadness and hard times on himself and his family.
Okonkwo’s tragic flaw was that, “He was afraid of being thought weak” (Achebe, 61). His fear of failure was greatly influenced by his father. Unoka was a lazy man, and Okonkwo felt that anything similar to him was weak. Because of this, he even went as far as to strike down a kid showing that one’s reputation is most important. “Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down.” (Achebe, 61). He felt terrible for murdering a boy he cared so greatly about, but his fear of being viewed as frail was greater than his empathy.
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In the story, Okonkwo murders a clansman by accident. “Okonkwo’s gun had exploded and a piece of iron had pierced the boy’s heart.” ( Achebe, 124) The punishment for this act was lessened to seven years of exile because it was an accident. This change was huge, and unexpected for Okonkwo. When he returns, he eventually realizes that he can no longer lead a strong clan. “He knew that he had lost his place among the nine masked spirits who administered justice in the clan. He had lost the chance to lead his warlike clan against the new religion, which, he was told, had gained ground.” (Achebe, 171) With the coming of the missionaries, the culture of the clan changed.
The new religion in Okonkwo’s clan went against everything he believed in. This drove him mad. Not only had he lost his son to this foreign religion, he had lost his entire village. “I am one of them,” replied Nwoye… And he found that Okonkwo did not wish to speak about Nwoye.” (Achebe, 144) Nwoye does not forgive his father and goes against him by converting. Due to the sudden change of lifestyle, Okonkwo comes to his final downfall. “Then they came to the tree from which Okonkwo’s body was dangling, and they stopped dead.” (Achebe, 207) He commits suicide rather than being ashamed by the revenge of the british.
Okonkwo’s tragic flaw kept him from the life he wanted and expected. Throughout his life, tragedy after tragedy appeared, giving him and his family much suffering, which eventually left his life in ruin. His suicide concludes the life of a tragic hero. He tried desperately, but was always destined to fail. Despite his good qualities, his anger, and tragic flaws ultimately reversed his fate.