Why does Things Fall Apart function as a tragedy?

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tresvivace | College Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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Things Fall Apart is unique in its use of both Western and native literary traditions.  Although Chinua Achebe wrote the novel in English, he drew upon native traditions such as the oral tradition and the use of proverbs, and he imbues the novel with details of native life.  However, Achebe was educated in the West (and taught in American universities until an accident disabled him) and also draws upon the Western literary tradition of the tragic hero and the tragic flaw.

Okonkwo, though a revered warrior, reveals his tragic flaw of unreasonable anger and unwillingness to stand up to tradition.  Specifically, Okonkwo adopts Ikemefuna, who lives with Okonkwo and is a role model for Okonkwo’s son Nwoye.  However, Ikemefuna’s life is demanded as a sacrifice to the Oracle of the Hills.  Although the oldest and wisest man in the village (much like the prophet Tieresias in the famous Western tragedies Oedipus Rex and Antigone) warns Okonkwo not to participate in this ritual, Okonkwo is afraid to look weak and kills the boy.  This destroys his relationship with Nwoye and leads to his condemnation.  As in traditional classical tragedy, Okonkwo recognizes his tragic flaw before his demise.

Paralleling the tragedy of Okonkwo is the tragedy of the Ibu (or Igbo) people as the Western missionaries come and destroy their civilization.  Okwonkwo’s story is reduced to a paragraph in the story of the end of the Ibu.


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