In what way can "Things Fall Apart" be considered a tragedy? In what way not?
Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart can be considered a tragedy because the protagonist suffers and fails as a result of his tragic flaw. The novel's protagonist, Okonkwo, is an extremely violent, callous man, who rejects ideas of modernity and is intolerant towards the Christian missionaries and unsuccessful men in his tribe. Despite being one of Umuofia's most celebrated and revered men, Okonkwo makes several tragic mistakes that lead to his downfall.
One can argue that Okonkwo's tragic flaw is his fear of being viewed as unsuccessful and weak. As a result, Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna against the Oracle's instructions, is exiled after accidentally murdering an unarmed man during a funeral, and impulsively kills a court messenger. After murdering the court messenger, Okonkwo commits suicide before the European colonists arrest him. Obierika's comments indicate that Okonkwo's death is tragic when he tells the District Commissioner,
"That man was one of the greatest men in Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself and now he will be buried like a dog . . . " (Achebe, 84)
One could also argue that Things Fall Apart is not a tragedy because Okonkwo does not die in a dignified manner and does not become aware of his tragic flaw before his death. One of the reasons Okonkwo is not a traditional tragic hero is because his personality and attitude do not elicit sympathy and he never acknowledges his personal flaws. Okonkwo remains callous, insensitive, and violent through the entire story and never experiences an inner change.
A tragedy is defined as a story where the protagonist is unsuccessful. At the end of "Things Fall Apart", the protagonist, Okwonkwo kills himself because he cannot adapt to the changes in the Igbo people. He resents Christianity and the white man. However, in death, Okwonkwo becomes a hero and actually brings back some of the traditional Igbo ways. They will not bury his body because he commited suicide and they make sacrifices to cleanse the land desecrated by the suicide. His friend, Obierika exclaims that Okwonkwo was one of the greatest men of his tribe and it was the white man who drove him to kill himself. So, by killing himself, Okwonkwo brings back some of his people's traditions and makes them aware of the dark side of the white people. Okwonkwo is a tragic figure but his death brings back the very things he died for.