Things Fall Apart is an epic; it resembles stories about heroes in many cultures. In such stories, the heroes are extraordinary individuals, whose careers and destinies are not theirs alone, but are bound with the fortunes and destinies of their society. They become heroes by accomplishing great things for themselves and their communities, winning much fame as a result. In an epic story, the hero undergoes many tests, which we can see as rites of passage. This article presents how far this novel can fulfill Aristotle’s concept of tragedy as well as tragic hero through its tragic hero, Okonkwo. Okonkwo, the hero of the novel, fits this pattern. In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo undergoes such tests, including the wrestling match with Amalinze the Cat, his struggle with the negative legacy of his father, and the struggle to succeed on his own.

Keywords: tragedy, tragic flaw, hamartia, pity and fear, tragic hero, poetics, protagonist, catharsis


The word tragedy can be applied to a genre of literature. It can mean ‘any serious and dignified drama that describes a conflict between the hero (protagonist) and a superior force (destiny, chance, society, god) and reaches a sorrowful conclusion that arouses pity and fear in the audience.’ From this genre comes the concept of tragedy, a concept which is based on the possibility that a person may be destroyed precisely because of attempting to be good and is much better than most people, but not perfect. Tragedy implies a conflict between human goodness and reality. Many feel that if God rewards goodness either on earth or in heaven there can be no tragedy. If in the end each person gets what he or she deserves, tragedy is impossible.

In the century after Sophocles, the philosopher Aristotle analyzed tragedy. Aristoele defines “tragedy” as an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative, through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions.”

According to Aristotle, the central character of a tragedy must not be so virtuous as such a character, instead of arousing the feeling of pity and fear at his or her downfall, will only give shocked to the readers, or simply caused outraged. Aristotle also claims that a hero should not be so evil that for sake of justice we desire his or her misfortune. Instead, the ideal hero is someone “who is neither outstanding in virtue and righteousness; nor is it through badness or villainy of his own that he falls into misfortune, but rather through some flaw [hamartia].” The character also should be famous or prosperous.

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