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Comparison of King Oedipus and Things Fall Apart

Talk about how these tragedies are similar in structure and how both demonstrate their belief in heroes who possess tragic flaw.

Many ancient societies have a record of tragic tales that observe problems of human life and the nature of the gods. For instance, both Greek and Nigerian tragic tales of King Oedipus and Things Fall Apart prove to be similar in structure. Both civilizations demonstrate their belief in tragic heroes who possess a tragic flaw as well as a belief in the ultimate powers of their gods. In Greek tragedies, the audience was often familiar with the storyline, so the authors had to incorporate tragic traits of heroes and climactic plot structure for the audience to be in suspense. The structure of the prologue, plot, and the characteristic of the protagonist in Things Fall Apart and King Oedipus help the authors arise the emotion of suspense in the reader.

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The prologue, or the brief introduction, of both stories, establishes the background of the story in order to begin in media res. In King Oedipus, Sophocles sets up the background information and gives the reader a sense of the present situation. Quickly, the Priest announces the purpose of the story when he explains that blight has taken over Thebes and has caused famine in the country. Oedipus pledges to find and punish the murderer of King Lais to stop the curse on their land. Sophocles assumes the audience is familiar with this tragic story, so he presents this information to the reader for the effect of dramatic irony to work properly.

Similarly, in Things Fall Apart, the first chapter acts as an introduction as it presents details about life and culture in the Nigerian area during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The legends of the fight with a spirit of the wild by the founder of the village and social rituals dealing with kola nuts and alligator pepper help familiarize the reader with the society. Achebe also sets up Okonkwo’s character and social standing. Many townspeople respect him for his strength and noble virtues. The tragic heroes are introduced and both stories begin in media res, or in the midst of the action. The prologue has the effect of familiarizing the reader with the protagonist so that suspense builds up during dramatic irony when the reader is aware of the hero’s downfall before the hero knows about it himself.

The plot structures of both works are similar in that the lives of the protagonists reach a climatic peak and then their fate causes their downfall. Since the audience was familiar with the plot and its characters, Sophocles had to rely on the plot structure to create suspense in the reader and produce the emotional effect of catharsis. Initially, Oedipus’ tragic flaw is not obvious, but it intensifies as the story progresses. The climactic point is when Oedipus realizes that he killed King Lais, his own father. Tiresias warns Oedipus not to question him about the true killer, but he forces the prophet to tell the truth. Oedipus is not convinced and his arrogant attitude makes him accuse Creon.

The reader’s suspense increases as these hasty acts, along with the rising action, stack on top of each other until the shepherd proves Oedipus is the killer. Then the reader’s emotions are released in the emotional cleansing. Okonkwo’s tragic flaw also becomes more obvious as the plot reaches the climax. In the rising actions, his life slowly falls apart. First, he lets the clan kill Ikemefuna, even though he believes it is wrong. Later he is exiled from the local village for accidentally killing a young boy during a ceremony. The reader observes misfortune after another until Okonkwo kills the messenger from the white man due to his tragic flaw of an impulse of anger. Again, the reader is held in suspense, expecting Okonkwo’s life to break apart at any moment. Soon enough, he hangs himself, as he can no longer endure the society.

The lives of both protagonists parallel as they share similar characteristics of a tragic hero. They each have a tragic flaw that ultimately causes their downfall. For example Oedipus’ hasty decisions without thinking partly influence him to fulfill his own fate. When he comes upon King Lais and his men during his journey – strangers to him, as he does not know Lais is his true father – Oedipus refuses to give way to the larger party. A quarrel breaks out and ends in the death of King Lais and all but one of his men. Instead of letting the other party go past him, Oedipus makes a hasty choice with his anger and kills his own father. To make matters worse, he disregards Tiresias’ warnings about finding the true killer of King Lais. He is advised to seek no further, but his arrogance makes him finally learn he is the killer. Out of shame, he gouges his own eyes out and becomes exiled from Thebes. His attitude of fury and supremacy over others controls his actions and helps accomplish his fate. In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo is determined to be a perfect example of manhood. He has the fear of being thought womanly and this tragic flaw leads to his death.

He hates gentleness and beats his son and wives when angered. His anger is out of pure impulse, especially when he spontaneously kills the head messenger who comes to Umuofia to break up a town meeting. The messenger is not able to finish his sentence before a furious Okonkwo assassinates him. This brings the ultimate suffering to Okonkwo when he hangs himself. These tragic traits stir up emotions of suspense in the reader. Oedipus could have avoided his fate if he only thought about his actions first. Okonkwo wants to be a hero in front of others, yet his quick impulses get him into conflict with society. The reader knows that the hero is digging himself into a hole, and this dramatic irony makes the story suspenseful. The hero is not aware of his own tragic flaw, unlike the reader who is fully aware of it, and this knowledge the reader has creates suspense.

Both Sophocles and Achebe make their tragic tales suspenseful through their structure. They both rely on dramatic irony to help create suspense. The reader is supposed to know more about the protagonist’s fate than himself, and this knowledge is suspenseful when the reader watches the hero’s life fall apart.

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Comparison of King Oedipus and Things Fall Apart. (2021, Mar 06). Retrieved July 8, 2021, from