An increasing amount of contemporary literature traces its origins back to the early works of Greece. For ages, humans have fascinated themselves with the impossible notion of perfection. Unrealistic expectations placed on those who were thought to be the noblest or most honorable individuals have repeatedly led to disappointment and frustration, either on the part of those particular individuals or those they influence. Classic characters, like Odysseus and Oedipus for instance, exemplify the excess of some positive character trait, like pride or honesty, which ironically leads to their personal misfortune.
Throughout literary history, particularly within Grecian writings and apparently still evident in today's international pieces, there exists continuity within the human fear of failure. Chinua Achebe's novel, Things Fall Apart, details a remote native African society, the Igbo people, and their struggle with Anglican colonization at the turn of the century. The main character Okonkwo is forced to deal with change and transition and bears similarities essential to the tragic hero. Okonkwo is physically, politically, spiritually, and economically strong; however, these strengths combined with his emotional insecurities force him into a tragic downfall, much like that of the classic Greek Heroes.
In typical Greek tragedies, the main character is driven to reach a goal that would prove him or her to be worthy of public admiration of the other characters. That goal is in all probability a good intention; however, some inevitable personality or character flaw prevents that goal from being accomplished and instigates the final tragedy. Aristotle coined the term hamartia, which has frequently been interpreted to mean that "the protagonist's fall is the result of an internal tragic flaw . . .or some other character trait that leads directly to disaster" (Nnolim 846).
Dr. Peter Smith identifies the characteristic of an archetypal tragic hero as having noble stature, a tragic flaw, free choice, and increased awareness (Smith 1). He maintains the theory that in order for a character to "fall" he or she must come from an original position of power and prestige. The tragic figure "falls" as a result of a personality flaw. While fate does in deed lend a hand in events surrounding a tragic hero, there must be some element of free choice available to the character. According to Smith, "the tragic hero falls because he chooses one course of action over another" (1). The hero must understand through increased awareness what went wrong before "he comes to his end." Additionally, in the case of a tragic figure, the punishment must exceed the crime. This is the injustice that evokes a kind of "catharsis" in the audience.
In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo's greatest fears lay in the anger he holds for his father. His father, Unoka, is a man estranged from the tribe. Okonkwo hates him for his laziness and typically female traits. To Okonkwo's...