In Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, how might Okonkwo be considered a tragic hero?

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meg526 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Aristotle says that the tragic hero is any protagonist who meets his or her downfall "through some combination of hubris, fate, and the will of the gods" ("Aristotle on Tragedy," paragraph 1). 
If we suspend a postcolonial reading of Things Fall Apart to substitute an Aristotelian reading, we may consider Okonkwo the tragic hero of the piece.

Okonkwo's hubris is integral to his role in Igbo society. He lives his life to prove that he is a strong man, unlike his father, whose memory is a constant humiliation. Okonkwo mistreats anyone he sees as weak, including his own family members. He favors his captured son, Ikemefuna, over his biological son, because he considers Ikemefuna to be more manly. This does not stop Okwonko from sending Ikemefuna to be murdered as a retributive killing. His fear of being thought weak compels him to follow through, no matter how fond he is of the boy.

There are a few instances where the hand of fate governs Okonkwo's downfall. The primary crisis comes when the white man brings their customs and religion to the region. Okwonko's reaction is to fight back, but he finds that not everyone feels the same. The social codes he has dedicated his life to are coming apart before his eyes, as if he has been living a lie. The world as it was no longer exists, and he cannot live in the world that it is becoming. His only option is to kill himself, though he knows this act is forbidden by the gods. There is a sense that Okonkwo was backed into a corner by circumstance and could not escape this fate, making him a tragic hero.

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Things Fall Apart

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