By definition, a tragic hero is someone usually of elevated status, who has a character flaw, which causes his demise. In the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the character Okonkwo is an exemplary model of a tragic hero, fitting all parts of the definition. The first requirement of a tragic hero is that he is of lofty social status.Okonkwo, although not of royalty as classical tragic heroes were, is one of the elite in the tribe. He participates at tribal meetings and even dresses as one of the nine spirits during festivals.
But Okonkwo was not born into wealth and prestige; rather he had to slave on his farm in-order to achieve his status. This helps to characterize Okonkwo as not only elite, but also as a great man. Unfortunately for Okonkwo, his spirit, strong enough to bring him to the top, also contained a flaw, which would bring him down.Ironically, the fatal flaw in Okonkwo’s character was his passion, the same passion that drove him to succeed. It was a passion for his family, his work, and his culture that at times mutated into anger, and even fear.
And this character flaw is all that it takes to cause his demise.As with all tragic heroes, Okonkwo suffered a sorrowful and disastrous downfall. His passion first broke his home, starting with Nwoye abandoning his ancestors and joining the church. Then all of Okonkwo’s work was destroyed, as he would lose his status and farm, too things he worked extremely hard for. Finally, he witnessed the beginning of the end for the Ibo tribe and its culture at the hands of “civilization”.
Adding more support to Okonkwo’s characterization as a tragic hero is the fact that in his death, he took his own life, he violated the Ibo customs he fought so hard to protect and preserve. More than anything else, it is in death that Okonkwo becomes a tragic hero.