In “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe and Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, both Okonkwo and Oedipus possess tragic flaws, which lead to their eventual downfalls, thus making both “Oedipus The King” and “Things Fall Apart” fall under the category of tragedy. This aside, these aspects of their personalities in these texts by Sophocles and Achebe are not helped by the negative twists of fate that seem to make the problems with their behavior more pronounced, thus more tragic in the end. Due the nature of fate as it functions in terms of tragedy and the tragic elements of both of these stories, both Oedipus and Okonkwo are partially to blame for their demise, but on the other hand, each of these characters possesses traits that seem to invite tragedy. This essay will argue through its thesis statement on “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe that Okonkwo bears more responsibility for his downfall than Oedipus, simply because he had more opportunities to change the course of his fate. Oedipus, on the other hand, despite his rash actions, is more a victim of fate than Okonkwo.
In any comparison of Okonkwo and Oedipus in the stories ”Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe and Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, it is important to note that they share a common trait that is, at least in part, the basis for downfall. They are both arrogant and refuse to be told they are wrong about anything. This said, these characters are both admirable at first, especially in the eyes of the other characters in each book. By the end of both ”Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe and Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, however, they are outcasts. When we are first introduced to Okonkwo on the very first page of the book, we are informed in one of the early but important quotes from Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe that “fame rested on solid personal achievements” (1). Oedipus also was renowned throughout his land because of his success in answering the riddle of the Sphinx, thus saving the city.
Throughout the tragedy by Sophocles, the king Oedipus relies on his personal glory to attain long lasting fame and balks when confronted with anything that might shatter this perception that he is the best. In one of the important quotes from Oedipus, Oedipus says, “I would not have you speak through messengers, and therefore I have come myself to hear you – I, Oedipus, who bear the famous name” (4) While both characters have done marvelous deeds in the past, their inherent arrogance, which is part of the tragic flaw of each of the characters, causes them to want to live off these past glories forever, thus making them think they are indestructible. Oedipus constantly brings up his personal achievements, just as Okonkwo relives the days of his glory when he wrestled the giant cat, Amalinze. Certainly the thematic connection of defeat and past glory in the mode of tragedy is apparent in the mere introduction of each of these characters.
Both Okonkwo and Oedipus are very reluctant to address the truth of, or deal with their fate and again, it is this arrogance or blindness that leads to the ultimate tragedy and comprises the main tragic flaw of both Okonkwo and Oedipus. There is a difference when making a comparison between these two proud men on this point, which serves to highlight the point made about how Okonkwo is more responsible for his tragic fate. Even though Tireseas tells Oedipus, “you weave your own doom” (4) it becomes a long order to convince him that he is not the perfect man he was so sure he was. Oedipus in one of the important quotes from “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles, though disbelieving the truth of his fate, finally addresses it when it can no longer be disproved. Much dialogue is passed back in forth in the beginning of this book that tries to convince Oedipus that he did, in fact, kill his father and sleep with his mother. Once Oedipus learns the truth in the play by Sophocles and puts his pride aside, he accepts his fate and sends himself off to a voluntary exile in another land. This eventual acceptance of fate makes Oedipus—even though he cuts out his eyes in a hasty and violent gesture such as both he and Okonkwo are prone to—still accepts fate and the tragic implications of it and attempts to appease it, not fight it, which marks a difference in a comparison of “Things Fall Apart” and Oedipus..
Other essays and articles in the Literature Archives related to this topic include : Women, Colonization & Cultural Change in “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe • History, Narrative and Culture in “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe • Comparison Essay on Things Fall Apart and My Antonia