Things Fall Apart as a Tragedy | Okonkwo as a Tragic Hero

Things Fall Apart as a Tragedy

What is a tragedy?

Greeks were the ones that used to write tragedies; some of them survived and reached to us; many were translated in English language. We read them and learn a lot of new things from those tragedies. Things Fall Apart also seems a complete tragedy; however, in Greeks, Oedipus Rex was the most famous tragedy. It is also the most discussed tragedy in the history of English literature. In fact, it was a favourite of Aristotle. He mentions it in his book Poetics..

Aristotle is of the considered opinion that a tragedy is an imitation of an action. He further mentions in poetics that poetry is divided into two types; one of them is serious, hence, tragedy is always serious. It should be complete and has a certain magnitude. Further the tragedy causes catharsis of emotions and feelings of pity and fear. Needless to mention that he answered to the objections that Plato raised against the poets while saying that it is a pure lie. Aristotle calls tragedy one of the best methods of learning.

Ingredients of Tragedy

From the above said definition of tragedy, that Aristotle provided in his book Poetics, characteristics of a tragedy, apart from imitation of nature, are:

  • Serious
  • A certain magnitude
  • Complete
  • Catharsis of emotions of pity and fear
  • Things Fall Apart as a Tragedy

Mostly, we judge plays in view of the definition of a tragedy; however, subsequently when novels replaced dramas the critics started making judgements on the novels on the basis of the definition of tragedy provided by Aristotle. Thus, there is no difference between a drama and a novel so far as the primary purpose of a tragedy is concerned. A novel can also fulfil the requirements in the same way a play does.

Tragedy should be Serious:

A writer imitates two types of worlds; either bad one or the good one, says Aristotle. He prefers the good one, which means serious; serious he means, a writer portrays the life of a person who is better than us for purgation of pity and fear. Things Fall Apart is a novel that fulfils this requirement of tragedy; nowhere in the novel the readers realise that the writer mocks the society. He does not show absurd behaviour of the people; instead it is the story of Okonkwo who falls from prosperity to adversity. Things Fall Apart definitely fits in this category so far as the first requirement of tragedy is concerned.

It is worth mentioning here that serious does not mean to portray everything without comic elements. Dr. Faustus is a play that contains some comic elements, which we call comic relief yet it is the best tragedy followed by Aristotle’s tragedies.

Things Fall Apart with the history of Igbo society follows the serious tragic story of Okonkwo. He is a tragic hero because of the combination of good and evil qualities; a fundamental requirement of a tragic hero mentioned by Aristotle. Readers can admire him from every aspect. He is good and simultaneously he has flaws. Readers can claim him a tragic hero as he fulfils every ingredient of a tragedy, provided by Aristotle in his book “Poetics”.

Even otherwise, the decay of Igbo culture in itself is a serious tragedy. Okonkwo’s story starts from prosperity and ends with adversity. He can definitely be titled as a tragic hero of the novel. His downfall is surely because of his hamartia (error or frailty). He was a noble man, whose life started from happy days and ended at nothingness.

A Certain Magnitude

In simple words, by magnitude Aristotle means the length. He is of the view that a tragedy should be long enough to make people realise the consequences. Primary purpose of the tragedy is the catharsis, hence, if a writer discusses things in detail then he achieves the primary purpose of a tragedy. Things Fall Apart has a certain magnitude, hence, it is a complete tragedy.


If a tragedy has a certain magnitude then it automatically becomes complete. Complete means that a tragedy must have a proper beginning, a middle and an end. At the start of this novel, the readers are introduced to everything. It becomes obvious to us the things that are necessary for us to be acknowledged. Okonkwo and Igbo society is discussed in detail; thereafter, in the middle of the novel we see the soul of tragedy and ultimately the novel concludes with the death of the protagonist of the play.

Thus, Things Fall Apart has a proper beginning, a middle and an end due to which we call it a complete tragedy. Nowhere in the novel the readers realise that something is missing. The writer tries his best to make it complete and he succeeds in it.

Catharsis of Emotions of Pity and Fear

Primary purpose of a tragedy is catharsis of emotions; hence, it is the main and the most important requirement of a tragedy. Aristotle sees tragedy as an effective way of teaching the people, hence, he mentions some of the important things to choose while portraying a tragic hero. He mentions so to fulfil the primary purpose of a tragedy.

Certain requirements that he mention regarding a tragic hero are:

  • A man of heroic qualities
  • A noble man from the upper class
  • Neither too good nor too bad
  • Falls from prosperity to Adversity
  • Hamartia

Things Fall Apart and Tragedy of Okonkwo

Undoubtedly, Okonkwo is a tragic hero as he meets every requirement. Firstly, he is a man of heroic qualities. He achieves everything with hard work. He hates his father because he is too lazy. Okonkwo also hates his son because he does not have the capacity of doing the labour. He becomes leader of the clan because of his own hard work. He produces more yam than anyone else. Okonkwo wants to do noble deeds. He is a person that can be called a noble hero from every perspective. He is a leader; therefore, in that society he belongs to the upper class. Aristotle chooses a hero from the upper class because the higher the class will be, the more tragic the downfall would be.

A hero should not be wicked as there is no tragedy in seeing an evil person falling from prosperity to adversity because he deserves it. If he is too innocent, the readers will not be able to justify his tragic downfall and instead of arousing the feeling of piety and fear it will just shock the readers. Okonkwo entirely fits this condition. He is not too bad to be a tragic hero nor too good. Ultimately, he falls from prosperity to adversity. The writer of the novel puts this characteristic in him to completely make Things Fall Apart a complete tragedy.

Hamartia and Tragedy of Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart

It is necessary for catharsis; without it there is no catharsis; it also completes a tragedy. A hero must have hamartia, due to which he suffers. Hamartia is an error in the character. A mistake,which is committed in passion or because of a moral flaw.

Okonkwo fulfils this element of tragedy too. His utmost flaw is his fear of failure. It is the reason he took steps which lead him to his ultimate destruction. Although he is a strong man yet he fears from failures, hence, he lacks confidence sometimes because of the failure of his father. That’s why he deals with his wives and son with heavy hands. He is well aware of the fate of his father and thus afraid to become like him; herefore, he tells his family to work hard lest they should face the evil days, just like his father faces.

It was his fear due to which he takes part in killing Ikemefuna. When he returns from exile, he finds missionaries at the climax. He tries to deal with them single handedly but fails to save his culture from destruction. After settling in life and earning respect, he becomes haughty and rash. Resultantly, he suffers with the penalty of his life. He suffers and causes the arousal of feelings of piety and fear. Catharsis is based on the tragedy of Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart.

Conclusion of Things Fall Apart as a Tragedy

In a nutshell, Okonkwo is a noble man, who has a good reputation and reverence in the vicinity. He is a person, who is known in nine nearby villages. Everyone respects him and admires his nobleness. Moreover, he is not a wicked man as we know that he has got this reputation by the dint of his hard work. We find him a person, who is at the peak and spending a flourishing life with his family. He is not the innocent one. He is not a pious man and has some errors. Okonkwo is a mixture of good and evil as required by Aristotle for catharsis of pity and fear.

At last but not the least Things Fall Apart is a story mainly concerned with Umofian society but the plot follows a tragedy; the tragic story of Okonkwo. He was a strong man, living a peaceful life, enjoying the fruits of his hard work but he suffered because of his hamartia. He is responsible for his downfall. In changing circumstances, he takes some steps which are against the nature of a layman. He should have not adopted such ways, which lead him to suffer.

We can admire Okonkwo for his best qualities, such as his hard working capacity, his vigilance and his bravery but at the same time we don’t like him as he is hasty, harsh and strict to his family, beats his wives and deals everything with heavy hands. In short, Things Fall Apart is a tragedy for Okonkwo and also for Umofian society.