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“Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a particular way. You become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, and brave by performing brave actions.” -Aristotle.
In Chinua Achebe’s famous novel, Things Fall Apart, the protagonist, Okonkwo, is proof of Aristotle’s statement. Although he is conceivably the most dominant man in Umuofia, his personal faults, which are fear of failure and uncontrollable anger, do not allow him true greatness as a human being. There are many reasons as to why this is true. One major reason is, because of his many flaws, it causes Okonkwo to lose track of his path in life. Another reason is because he is portrayed as a negative character. These are just a few of the many reasons as to why Okonkwo is considered a tragic hero by many.
Okonkwo’s first and most distinctive flaw is his fear of failure. Many people would agree that this flaw is driven by the fear of becoming his father, but Okonkwo takes this fear too far. Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, was known for being a very lazy and carefree man. He also had notoriety of being “…poor and his wife and children had barely enough to eat.” (Achebe 5). A big tradition in Umuofia is having a father who is supposed to teach his children right and wrong. In Okonkwo’s case, these lessons had to be self-taught. Okonkwo had to commit to his own understandings of what defined a “good man” and to him that was the exact opposite of his father. Because of his fear to be seen as weak, Okonkwo even murders a child that calls him father. Ikemefuna was sent to live with Okonkwo because someone was murdered in a nearby village. An example of Okonkwo’s ill-hearted actions are shown in the following quote: “As the man drew up and raised his machete, Okonkwo looked away. He heard the blow. He heard Ikemefuna cry, ‘My father, they have killed me!’ as he ran towards him. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak.” (Achebe 61). The fact that he kills Ikemefuna shows that his reputation is more important than the life of a child. Okonkwo’s fear permits him to receive more respect from his tribe, but only because it inclines him to do better than anyone else.
Another of Okonkwo’s greatest flaws is his uncontrollable anger.
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Another great example of Okonkwo’s uncontrollable anger is when he beheads the messenger. “He confronted the head messenger…in a flash Okonkwo drew his machete. The messenger crouched to avoid the blow. It was useless. Okonkwo’s machete descended twice and the man’s head lay beside his uniformed body.” (Achebe 204). In this situation, Okonkwo’s hate and anger ultimately leads him to the messenger’s death. Although his hate and anger is authentic here, it is obvious that he is not able to control it, and an unconstrained temper does less good than harm.
After reading this book multiple times, I feel that hate and anger is a very damaging way to live one’s life. As said before, Okonkwo gains respect and power. However, it is gained out of fear. Okonkwo became haunted with the obsession of manliness in order to make up for his father’s “femininity” or “gentleness.” Therefore, Okonkwo only allowed himself to display the emotion of anger. He strongly believed that “affection was a sign of weakness; the only thing worth demonstrating was strength.” (Achebe 28). Okonkwo spent an immense deal of energy attempting to abolish gentleness.
I believe that Okonkwo is just a complex character who simply got caught up in his own flaws. To him, these weren’t considered flaws, which initially caused his downfall. As wrong as it was, Okonkwo was expressly being himself. I also believe he should be considered a typical tragic hero. Even though the author, Chinua Achebe, portrayed Okonkwo as a negative character, he was mainly a symbol for the entire community. I feel that one can’t help but feel sympathy for this unfortunate character.
Although I feel sympathy for Okonkwo, I most definitely do not admire him as a person. Understandably, he lived a hard life. With a father who was a careless failure, he shouldn’t be blamed for wanting a better life. However, I think that there could have been other ways in which he could have expressed himself. Also, I don’t think he had to commit suicide in order to “make everything go away.” I don’t feel that the District Commissioner drove Okonkwo to kill himself. I conclude that anger creates fear, which creates power, power that is easily taken away from change. Okonkwo was not able to realize that, so his life was lost.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. 1959. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell
Publishing Group, Inc., 1994.