Norman Mailer once asked “For what does it mean to be a hero? ” and answered himself with “It requires you to be prepared to deal with forces larger than yourself. ” This defines the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and the play Julius Caesar by Shakespeare. This quote may have many meanings, but I personally believe it means that he who calls himself a hero (such as a police officer, fire fighter or others) will have to deal with situations that will be difficult to defeat; however they do so because it is their job to.
I am thus forced to agree with what Norman Mailer says. Both works of fiction have protagonists dealing with conflict that ultimately lead to their tragic fall as heroes. The protagonist of Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo, was one of the strongest men in Umuofia. He was masculine, hardworking, reputable, and wealthy. He didn’t want to be like his father, a failure. Okonkwo believed his father was a failure because the man was very lazy, disgraceful, and poor. Over the years in his village it was said by the elders, “… if a child washed his hands… nd so he ate with the kings. ” This quote indirectly characterizes Okonkwo, displaying how he knew what he had to do if he wanted to be a great hero, furthermore developing his character as a young man. Towards the end of the novel one can imagine Okonkwo as a tragic hero because, like other tragic heroes, he has one major flaw. His main flaw develops from his fear of being like father, whom he dispised. He as well can’t display his emotions because he doesn’t want to look weak or sissyish, and when he does show any emotion, it is an uncontrollable rage.
As a result of his flaws, Okonkwo has suffered countless tragedies, which ultimately leads to his ironic death. Okonkwo’s tragedy was due to many things that happened in Umuofia, but the main reason was the arrival of the white missionaries, “Does the white man understand our custom about land? ” (chpt. 20). Okonkwo says this, due to his discontentment by the fact that the white men have arrived and entirely ignored the Igbo meaning of justice, when they arrived, everything figuratively fell apart.
The author uses the theme of “the struggle between change and tradition” to develop the plot further by causing the village of Umuofia to turn against Okonkwo, ultimately leading to his tragic yet evitable death. Even though the white missionaries came and changed everything in Umuofia, Okonkwo’s fall could have been averted. If his clan had not become weak, Okonkwo would likely not have committed suicide. If they would have supported Okonkwo and become strong again, they would have prevented whites from staying in Umuofia and destroying it.
In the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, the general that the peasants worshipped in the first act of the play, is a tragic hero. He was a dignified leading man. He was expected to become the king of Rome, and had a large amount of support and the reputation to do so. Caesar had a lot of advantages since he was a great general. Some current day generals even consider strategies used by Caesar more than 2,000 years ago. He was, according to Antony, “a friend, faithful (p. 94)”. Caesar was a positive person and was able to obtain incredible support from the Roman people.
How ever, he had a fatal flaw; his pride, which is what essentially killed him. Caesar was warned numerous times throughout the first two acts of the play about the menace on the Ides of March, or March 15th. The Soothsayer warned Caesar on the Lupercal, but Caesar, full of pride, simply brushed him off. In Caesar’s mind, he was essentially an immortal, and no mortal could ever cause him harm. In addition, on the Ides of March, his wife, Calpurnia, loyally recommended that Caesar not to go to the Capitol that day. Nevertheless, after a talk with Decius, Caesar was once again persuaded he had immortality.
It was this awful mentality that caused Caesar to ignore the warnings. If he hadn’t been so arrogant, Caesar may perhaps have avoided his tragic death. Caesar was a hero beyond expectations others held for him. Ultimately, both Okonkwo and Caesar try to rise above the conflict and pull through with strength and power. This leads to their downfall as heroes and furthermore leads to their deaths. As Norman Mailer phrases a hero must be prepared to deal with forces larger then themselves, Okonkwo and Caesar were forced to defend themselves and others, due to their social statues as heros.