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Tragic Heroes In Things Fall Apart English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2006 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The purpose of this written task is to give the target audience a more flexible approach to think about Okonkwos status after he died for the reason that just because he dies tragically, does not mean he is to be considered a tragic hero. The main audience for this written task is those who often study the “between the lines” context of Achebes work. This will be a perfect task for them to be debate for or against. Another target audience is also those who just have an interest in Achebes message in “Things Fall Apart”. The written task connects to “Language and Culture” because there are different interpretations of what a hero to the culture really is. Obiereka has stated “That man was one of the greatest men in Umofia. You drove him to kill himself; and now he will be buried like a dog… “(208) In the Igbo culture, Okonkwo will be treated more like an animal when he is dead than a savior to their customs and traditions. The area of communication, mass communication is most appropriate for this task because this area is meant to be used for students to convey their own opinion into one of the type of texts for a more inventive approach. The specific type of text I have selected is an opinion column because it conveys my purpose of the written task because what better way to trigger a debate than an opinion column. An opinion column is one of the only texts that is directly related to my purpose, which stating my outlook on the issue of Okonkwo’s death and if he should be considered a tragic hero.

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Written Task #1: Opinion Column: My Belief that there is no Tragic Hero in Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”

According to Aristotle a tragedy is “a drama…which recounts an important and casually related series of events in the life of a person of significance, such events culminating in an unhappy catastrophe, the whole treated with great dignity and seriousness.” The novel Things Fall Apart, written by Chinua Achebe begins as a story about the life of a man named Okonkwo. It recounts the events beginning with his childhood and ending with his death. Part I of the novel is about Okonkwo, his family, and the customs and culture of his clan. In Part II the white men came from England, bringing with them their own culture, religion, and government. Part III focuses on the struggle between the clansmen and the missionaries. Okonkwo’s pride, ambition and overconfidence play a large part in the fight for freedom. According to Arthur Miller, “the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing – his sense of personal dignity… Tragedy, then is the consequence of a man’s total compulsion to evaluate himself justly.”

In the end of Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo does die for his cause; however whether or not his death can be classified as heroic is debatable. As the village was having a meeting as to what must be done in response to the invasion, they were confronted with five court messengers. The head messenger demanded passage, and was confronted by Okonkwo. When the messenger ordered the meeting to stop, Okonkwo drew his machete and beheaded the man. The next day the district commissioner arrived to take Okonkwo away, only to find that Okonkwo had hung himself. It can be argued that his death came from his “underlying fear of being displaced… his struggle… to gain his ‘rightful’ position in his society” (Miller). It can be argued that he was too proud, and that the value of his life was too great to be condemned by the white men. A tragic hero “insists on expressing himself even though he must suffer for his self assertion” (Hibbard, Holman, and Thrall). This is true in Okonkwo case. Also, it is said that “the hero is not arbitrarily struck down but has in some way contributed to his fall” (Hibbard, Holman, and Thrall). This is true in that Okonkwo did choose to kill the messenger, and did take his own life. In the novel, Obierika, Okonkwo’s best friend, relates to the Commissioner how he feels about Okonkwo’s death; “That man was one of the greatest men in Umofia. You drove him to kill himself; and now he will be buried like a dog… “(208)

The way in which Okonkwo took his own life can also lead to the argument that he was no hero, but that he took the easy way out. “The pathetic is achieved when the protagonist is, by virtue of his witlessness, his insensitivity, or the very air he gives off, incapable of grappling with a much superior force” (Miller). It can be agreed that his death was somewhat pathetic as opposed to heroic. It is also hypocritical that Okonkwo worked so hard to be respected and to stand up for his own customs, and yet took his own life, which in the clan was considered an abomination. “It is an offense against the Earth, and a man who commits it will not be buried by his clansmen. His body is evil, and only strangers may touch it” (207). For the tragic hero “the destruction of the body is, however, often accompanied by such enlargement of the spirit that, no matter how awful the consequences of the error, the hero has triumphed over them and subjugated them by his greatness of mind” (Hibbard, Holman, and Thrall). Okonkwo’s death was quite opposite. His spirit was in no way enlarged, if anything it was diminished. Also greatness of mind was not achieved through his death, and in no way had he triumphed. “His destruction in the attempt posits a wrong or an evil in his environment” (Miller). Instead of Okonkwo’s death bringing heroism and enlightenment, it only brought evil. He had potential to be a tragic hero, instead he was merely tragic.

Things Fall Apart can most definitely be defined as a tragedy, but the protagonist is not a tragic hero. Though he has many characteristics of the tragic hero, his death falls short of heroism. It could be concluded that Achebe purposely ended Okonkwo’s life in this way in order to convey to the reader a sense of depravity; to leave the book lacking. The end lacks an ending. The District Commissioner merely mentions that he may be able to use the story of Okonkwo to fill a paragraph of the book he is writing. This statement completely diminishes the importance of Okonkwo’s life; perhaps in an effort to relate the way that these people and this culture has been tossed away and ultimately forgotten, aside from the occasional paragraph in some random, meaningless book. An ending truly tragic.

Word Count: 1004 words

Work Cited

Hibbard, Holman, Thrall. Excerpts from: A Handbook to Literature, “Aristotelian Tragedy”.

Miller, Arthur. “Tragedy and the Common Man,” (an excerpt from the preface prepared by Miller for Death of a Salesman.), 1949

Written Task #2: Rationale

The purpose of this written task is to give the target audience of how media destroyed something that was once considered to be a sign of tranquility and peace. In a general sense, the whole idea of this written task is to alert the people that media is the main factor to the destruction of peace, it is the reason we have cultural borders, discrimination between races, and provincial minds. The target audience for this written task is basically those who are not living under a rock. At least those people do not have the influence of the media to make their decisions for them. This political cartoon is meant for the world as a whole (hence the woman carrying the dove personifies the world.) This cartoon does not have a particular race to it, it calls to every religion, every race, and every culture (ergo the interracial features on the woman) and warn them that we are all effected by the same evil. The cartoon and its interpretation connect to the option “Media and Culture” because it sends a message towards one of the main iniquities of media, and that is the hate speech. Hate speech takes various forms, from words stirring violence, to those producing a climate of hate towards defenseless groups. Hate speech has one common result: it creates an environment of odium and prejudice that legitimizes hostility towards its targets. Hate speech is the reason the dove is stripped from its olive branch and left to die. The area of communication, poetic communication, also connects with this written task since it helps the audience think and create their own message of what the cartoon is conveying. Afterwards they can flip it over and understand the true significance of the cartoon. Poetic communication also involves the audience to think imaginatively and appeal to them. Even more specifically, the type of text I have chosen, “cartoon” (interpretation included) helps appeal to the audience more. As the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a 1000 words” but a picture that oozes metaphors and subliminal context is worth a countless number of words since each person in the audience has a different interpretation of it. I did not select the other types of text because I did not want to limit the audience’s thoughts about the back story of this cartoon with words, I did not want to stir them in any direction- I wanted to see their own understanding on the evils of broadcast media.

Written Task #2: An Artist’s Interpretation of the Media

“Hold a dove too tight and you’ll kill it, hold it too loose and it’ll fly away”

In this cartoon, one sees an interracial woman with a head scarf holding on to a dove while it bleeds to death, still holding on to its olive branch. The media’s interpretation of the dove carrying an olive branch in the past years was a symbol of peace but due to recent changes in media, the dove has only been seen as disruption of peace. Nowadays, media has slaughtered its dove and stripped it of its olive branch. Some of the categories in hate speech often seen in the broadcast media consist of: False specifics include incorrect, exaggerated, synthesized facts. Disruptive language creates and encourages an “us vs. them” mindset. Hard times often provoke blaming others as the basis of trouble. Muslims, African Americans, and Jews have been regularly targets as scapegoats for those wishing to advance their own agendas. Dehumanizing metaphors call to mind messages involving heroism, warfare, disease, etc. All this is included in our everyday sources of media, and they all differ depending on what one believes on or where they are from. Broadcast media, our main source of news, influences our behavior and opinions. Hate speech is the reason the dove is stripped from its olive branch and left to die. It has been stabbed by an arrow that reads “Insert News Station” meaning that every news station is biased, they create a heroic stature for the country they represent and dehumanizes other vulnerable groups that do not have a respected status in that country. The woman represents mother earth; she is interracial for the reason that she represents every race, nation, and religion. She is not biased nor is she prejudiced and this is why she is wearing a cloth that has the same color as the dove, it symbolizes her connection with peace and also shares the pain that peace has been inflicted upon. The quote below the cartoon: “Hold a dove too tight and you’ll kill it, hold it too loose and it’ll fly away” means that media has repressed peace and conveyed hatred instead and destroyed its significance. The olive branch remains in the dove’s mouth because it represents hope that one day, people may forgive their enemies and sew up the dove’s wounds.

Word Count: 400 words


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