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In Poetics of Aristotle (384 -322BC), Aristotle asserts that a tragic hero is a character that has risen to a lofty height of prominence only to be crumbled by his own innate flaws and mistakes and not as a result of his adversaries. “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements. As a young man of eighteen he had brought honour to his village by throwing Amalinze the cat. ...Okonkwo’s fame had grown like a bush-fire in the harmattan”(1)Okonkwo was clearly cut for great things (6) though he inherited nothing from his lazy father Onoka. He was a wealthy farmer and had two barns full of yams (6).

Here is a man who has risen out of the penury conferred on him by ugly paternity to honour, respect, influence and affluence in his community. He is among the nine marked spirit who administered justice in the clan (12) and he has taken all but one title. He has shown incredible prowess in two inter-tribal wars. He is already one of the greatest men of his time.

However, his hatred for everything his father loves which include gentleness and idleness (10) imprisons his life in perpetual fear of the unknown and the dread of the uncertain. Achebe puts it in explicit terms thus:
But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and the forces of nature, malevolent red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not eternal but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father (9-10)


Aristotle in his Poetics (384 – 322 BC) seems to capture the fall of Okonkwo as he expostulates on what constitutes the elements of a tragic hero by writing that “the downfall of a noble hero or heroine is usually through a combination of hubris, fate and the will of the gods. The tragic hero’s powerful wish to achieve some goals inevitably encounters limits, usually through human frailty (flaws in reason, hubris and society.)”

Things started going in antipode direction for Okonkwo, who has enjoyed the felicity of being an authority in his clan, the moment his gun explodes and pieces the heart of Ezeudu’s son (86). In the words of Achebe, “nothing like this had ever happened”(87). This act alone destroys the wealth and prosperity he has built all his life except the little ones his friend, Obierika could rescue. Like a child with fire within his thighs, he flees from his father’s land and suffers banishment for seven years.

As corroborated by Aristotle, “the tragic hero is a great man who is neither a paragon of virtue and justice nor undergoes the changes of misfortune through real badness or wickedness but because of some mistakes (hamartia)”

Overtly, Okonkwo’s fear-driven life leads him to a more sinister chasm of derision and self destruction than that of banishment. Borrowing Bode Ajuwon’s phrase in his article, Oral and witten Literature in Nigeria, Okonkwo should be regarded as the “keeper of the peoples’ ancient wisdoms and beliefs”, a staunch pillar of antiquated past who vehemently insisted on the maintenance of the status quo rather than been drifted around by aliens’ philosophies, customs and beliefs.

In the essay, Okonkwo’s Downfall in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the anonymous writer enlightens on the hubris in Okonkwo’s life thus
“Okonkwo’s devotion to manliness is an obsession that leads these incredible situations of violence and resistance with regard to the colonialist and therefore is the reason for his destruction.”
When Okonkwo returns to his father’s land, he is dismayed by the unhampered changes that have infiltrated Umoufia during the course of his absence. The Europeans have not only brought a religion, but also a government. The conversion of his only son Nwoye to Christianity, the fanaticism of some over-zealous converts such as Enoch who no longer respected the customs of their forebears and the excesses of the White administrative body aggravated his untameable passion for remonstrance _which consequentially leads to his murdering of one government official.

“In a flash, Okonkwo drew his matchet. The messenger crushed to avoid the blow. It was useless. Okonkwo’s matchet descended twice and the man’s head lay beside his uniformed body.” (144)
Just as Aigboje Higo observes in his introductory note that “you can see him [Okonkwo] as the hero who fails to hold or uphold the share responses of his clan and as a result of which the clan, like him, breaks apart” the Irish Poet, W. B. Yeats, writes in his poem The Second Coming from which Achebe derives his afflatus of his title thus:
“Things fall apart: the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy his at loosed upon the world”
However, Obierika sums up the totality of Okonkwo’s existence, his fame and failure, strength and weakness, and all he lives for or represented when he accuses the District Commissioner and his high handed governance thus:
“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...” (147)
Without further ado, it is very reasonable to assert that it is the Aristotelian tragic hero that has inspired the character of Okonkwo who has risen out of obscurity and poverty to prosperity and lofty height of enviable success only to crumble not as a result of his adversary, evil or enmity but by his own innate limitations and flaws called hubris (flaws) and hamattia (mistakes) in Latin.

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Heinemann Educational Books (With introduction and note by Aigboye Higo). 1958
Aristotle. Poetics (384 – 322 BC)
Bode, Ajuwon. Oral and Written Literature in Nigeria. Nigerian History and Culture, Richard Olaniyan, editor, (Hong Kong, Longman Group Ltd, 1985) pp 306 – 318
Okonkwo’s Downfall in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. 123helpme.com
W. B. Yeats. The Second Coming.

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