Okonkwo’s oldest son, Nwoye, yearns for his father’s love and compassion and is deprived of the unconditional love a father should provide for his son, but is not provided because it would be perceived as weakness and therefore not manly. Nwoye’s behaviors and characteristics such as laziness and sensitivity resemble Okonkwo’s father, Unoka. Okonkwo loathed his father’s to such an extreme that he swore to himself to become his father’s antithesis. He receives many beatings from his father until Ilkemefuna arrives and teaches him a gentler form of successful masculinity.
Nwoye becomes conflicted because, “Okonkwo encouraged the boys to sit with him in his obi, and he told them stories of the land-masculine stories of violence and bloodshed. Nwoye knew that it was right to be masculine and to be violent, but somehow he still preferred the stories that his mother used to tell”(53). When the missionaries came to his village his hope and faith reawakened, but “it was not the mad logic of the trinity that captivated him. He did not understand it. It was the poetry of the new religion, something felt in the marrow.
The hymn about brothers who sat in darkness and in fear seemed to answer a vague and persistent question that haunted his young soul-the question of the twins crying in the bush and the question of Ilkemefuna who was killed. He felt a relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul”(147). Finally, Nwoye seems to have found peace in leaving his father and insensitive religion. Okonkwo is driven by his father’s legacy of shame and has no use for unsuccessful men. But as he projects his image of strength, we find that “His whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weakness”(13).
The roots of the fear go deep. “It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father”(13). The novel continues, “Even as a little boy he had resented his father’s failure and weakness, and even now he still remembered hoe he had suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was abgala. That was how Okonkwo first came to know abgala was not only another name for a woman; it could also mean a man who had taken no title. And so Okonkwo was ruled by one passion-to hate everything that his father Unoka had loved.
One of those thing was gentleness and another was idleness”(13). Therefore, Okonkwo would live a life of manliness and show no weakness. As a result of this choice he made, he lost two sons. Ilkemefuna, his adopted son, was sent outside of the village to be killed because the decision of his fate had been made and, ” As the man who had cleared his throat drew up and raised his machete, Okonkwo looked away. He heard the blow. The pot fell and broke in the sand. He heard Ilkemefuna 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”(61). After Okonkwo heard of Nwoye’s conversion he thought, “How then could he have begotten a son like Nwoye, degenerate and effeminate? Perhaps he was not his son. No! he could not be. His wife had played him false. He would teach her! But Nwoye resembled his grandfather, Unoka, who was Okonkwo’s father…. How could he have begotten a woman for a son? “(153). Despite Okonkwo’s efforts to perfect what his father hadn’t, he stumbles upon new problems which he had created himself. In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo has some qualities, which could categorize him as a tragic hero.
However, only the reader’s interpretation of the character’s actions will determine if he is a tragic hero or not. Aristotle, in his work, “The Poetics”, defines a tragic hero. According to his definition, the tragedy ends in death; however, the death is meaningful. Also, it the tragedy ends with a transformation not only for the character but also for the people. The hero dies as a martyr for his people and restores the moral order in the universe. The hero must be a person of high stature and must have a hamartia, a tragic flaw, and hubris, arrogance.
The tragic hero also must experience a perepetia, which is a tremendous downfall and a reversal of fortune, and therefore, the hero must be originally of high stature. In his Ibo society, Okonkwo would certainly be considered a noble person. Not only has he worked his way up from poverty to become one of the leading men of Umuofia, but he has also been considered one of the greatest warriors and wrestlers in the land. “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements”(3). Due to the exemplary actions, Okonkwo had gained respect from his fellow villagers.
His masculinity and violence is his tragic flaw, which causes him to kill the white man and cause his painful but meaningful death. Although his death is caused by his tragic fall his downfall isn’t because it began when he was sent to exile for seven years because of an unpreventable accident. In the end of chapter twenty when Okonkwo tells his friend, Obierika, that Umuofia should rise up against the British, Obierika understands that it is too late because many Umuofians have already “joined the ranks of the strangers”(176). As a result, if they have a war they will kill fellow clansmen, which is against their religion.
Obierika continues and says that the white man ” has put a knife on things that held us together and we have fallen apart”(176). Umuofia has experienced a cultural tragedy and Okonkwo realizes he returns from exile and he can’t make the ceremonies for his sons, because the rites are held only once every three years and the year of his return is not one of them. The old Umuofians who where tough warriors became “soft like women”, so he mourns for the clan, ” which he saw breaking up and falling apart”(183). After Okonkwo was freed from prison, he remembers when Umuofia was more had a warlike spirit.
He is worried that his clansmen would rather make peace, but if that were their decision he would fight alone. When Okonkwo kills the court messenger, his fellow clansmen almost back away in fear of him. When he realizes that nobody supports him he realizes that he cannot save village and people of Umuofia and their way of life. Everything that Okonkwo cares and loves has fallen apart, which makes his subsequent suicide not shocking and perfectly understandable, since, the basis of his life is the village and if is village no longer exists why should he.
The commissioner believes that since he has spent ” many years in which he had toiled to bring civilization to different parts of Africa “and has “learned a number of things, that his experience allow him to write a book on The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Nile”(208-09). The Commissioner, like other colonialists, thinks he knows a lot about the Igbo, although, he really knows very little, especially that they are not primitive. Even before the British arrived their culture had intricate systems of justice, government, society, religion, and medicine.