There is no doubt to believe that Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex is a narrative, which follows Aristotle’s concept of tragedy in an accurate way. If we observe the development of the character, that is strong character of a tragic hero. Hence, it is one of the perfect classical tragedies. When critics take Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe as an example of classical tragedy, they also take its protagonist as a tragic hero. The research is based upon the grounds on which these both narratives could be compared and contrast. It also locates the influence and borrowing of Greek traditions by Achebe. Following which lines the African narrative is able to stand within the periphery of Aristotelian and Classical tragedy. The methodology of the research will be qualitative. This would be the reading of the scholarly articles. Hence, locating their gapes and lapses yet searching for the answers of my own research. Which is touched very little, by the researchers so far. Therefore, a detailed analysis of the missing points is given in the research paper.
The research is based upon the comparative study of two different genres. One the old and famous Greek tragedy of Sophocles Oedipus Rex, the other is a tragic novel Things Falls Apart by an African writer Chinua Achebe. The research is not following the typical comparison, as it is comparison and contrast of two different kinds of narratives. Apart from this difference, we find few similarities and differences too. Generally, the similarities are because of the influence of Aristotelian concepts of tragedy and tragic heroes. Therefore, we find the both writers following the standard set by Aristotle, specifically about the characteristics of a tragic hero. And how far we can take it as an example of classical tragedy. Apart from these influences, we also find some cultural beliefs as common. The role of Oracles is very dominant in the both narratives. The role of gods is very important, in the downfalls of the both heroes. Therefore, the research will be focusing not the structural comparison but also the thematic comparison regarding the Oracles.
Influence is a widespread, well-documented, and widely acknowledged practice western literary tradition, but there has been a flat denial that it exists among African writers (Ogede, 2011). One part of his research is based upon the discussions of African writing, concerning the style of writing, arrangement of the themes, writing stance, and hence making a conclusion that, the persistent regime of denial that over time has established itself so firmly that an observer might take it as “inspiration of a local origin” (ogede, 2011).
Allot of local, African cultural influences are clearly observed in Things Fall Apart. Mostly they are similar to the traditions of Greek i: e in Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles. Apart from the customs presented in the both narratives, we also encounter the similarities in their narrative structures. As Things Fall Apart is also taken as an ‘exemplification of Classical tragedy’ (Whittaker and Hangson Msiska, 2007). As few similarities and differences are easily noticeable between the both narratives.
Abio Irele (1978) shows a neo-Aristotelian approach, towards seeing Okonkow’s downfall as analogous to be a Classical Tragedy’ but, he mixes the idea of Aristotle’ tragedy with cultural conflict. The narrative, according to him, has the structure of Classical Tragedy, following the universal influence of classists on the narrative.
Lindfore (1968) approach towards the narrative also lies on the same idea of neo-Aristotle tragedy regarding the view of the artist and the text. The narrative Things Fall Apart raises complexity because of its ‘sense of decorum, proportion and design lacked by too many contemporary novelists, African and non-African alike’. This ‘non-African’ stance could be generally related in comparison with the Western literature. As, Things Fall Apart in terms of tradition flashes the Greek traditions. Both Irele and Lindfor do discuss the narratives of Things Fall Apart from an Aristotelian point of view. However, they do not explain by comparing the narrative with another narrative-, which is following the same Aristotle’s concept of tragedy.
Abdul Jan Mohamed (1984) mostly focuses upon the elements of narrative structure and the ‘specificity of a culture’ that Things Falls Apart is able to represent. He also discusses ‘Okonkow’ as a heroic figure of the narrative. However, leaves out his comparison with any of the other heroic figures.
Florence Stratton (1994) carried out her research upon the feministic perspective. She sees in the narrative the representation of pre-colonial Umofia as male-dominated. Moreover, thinks that women are consistently marginalized and silenced, in Things Fall Apart.
Carey Synder (2008) researched upon the ‘Narrative Complexity in Things Fall Apart’. He has worked upon the narrative discourse that resides with in the text of the novel. Ethnographic and anthropological reading of the novel has discussed in his research. Moreover, it deals with how language at stylistic and semantic level creates complexity for non-native readers. Synder talks much about the narrator’s point of view and its complexity. As at times, the narrator of the text echoes like the natives, and at times narrator seems to be as an observer from outside the culture. He does not deal with the narrative complexity while dissecting the narrative structure, rather only focusing upon narrator’s tone.
Ten Kortenaar, Neil (2007) highlights the psychology of the characters of Things Fall Apart”. He says that ‘ it becomes meaningful to look for Oedipus in Africa or, alternatively, for what takes its place’. He focuses on Oedipus of Freud not of Sophocles” Oedipus the king. He wants to look at the fate of Oedipus in the pre-independence novels. This Oedipus metaphorically stands for the leading male characters. He observes the characters involved in an oedipal revolution: that is to leave away their fathers and establishing themselves as the father of the new nation. He locates the revolution deeply in the lives of Okonkow and Noweye in contrast with Unoka (old generation). Neil (2007) knows that ‘Achebe writes a tragedy along the lines of Sophocles’. However, he does not discuss any of the Sophocles’ tragedy in comparison with Achebe’s writing. To clarify that on which lines exactly Things Fall Apart is following the tragedy of Sophocles. He provides us no detail account of it.
By having a look at above-mentioned researches, which were much closed to the selected topic. We can find out the gap that researchers have not fulfilled yet. It is the comparative study of Things Fall Apart with Oedipus Rex, which researches have left out for me. They have made certain comments that it does resemble classical tragedy but on which basis they have not discussed them in detail. They told in their works that the protagonist of Things Fall Apart ; Okonkow is a tragic hero, his psyche, his domination in his culture, his tragic end, his resistance towards the colonizers, his hate and anger everything has been touched. Except the comparison with another tragic hero; of another tragedy, sharing few same customs of religion and tradition.
There are many common elements in the personality and the fate cycle of the protagonists of both the narratives. I have selected the tragic hero Oedipus in comparison and contrast with the African tragic hero Okonkow. By reading the both narratives, I will dig out the similar grounds for comparison. As it is a qualitative research, it would be comprised of a simple narrative analysis. No specific instruments or tools would be incorporated to carry out the research. Few books, essays and previous researches carried out on the closely related topics are taken in concern. After reading the research works and applying my own critical sense. I will try to find out the answers for my research questions previously mentioned in the abstract.
Oedipus Rex is the most famous tragedy of the fifth century by Greek dramatist Sophocles. Based on a new version of the older myth; the story of an abandoned child who unwittingly fulfills a prophecy that he will murder his father and marry his mother. It is a tragic episode, but also a play about human greatness. Oedipus is great, not in virtue of a great worldly position is an illusion, which will vanish like a dream–but in virtue of his inner strength to accept and endure it when found at whatever personal cost, and strength to accept and endure it when found. ‘This horror is mine,’ he cries, ‘and none but I is strong enough to bear it’. — Oedipus is great because he accepts the responsibility for all his acts, including those, which are objectively most horrible, through subjectively innocent (Dodds, 1966). The same idea of damaging one’s own self lies in the life of tragic hero of Things Fall Apart. At the end of the play, he kills his own self because of his inflexible way of living. If we look at the grounds of the damage occurred to the both heroes, we find them someway different. As one hero completely takes away his life and one just blinds himself, and having different reasons behind this action.
The similarity that could be taken out of this event is of ‘exhibiting the physical strength’, which all the heroes are certainly proud of. As they think like Oedipus that, they are the only strong ones to bear it. In the same way, Okonkow’s death was taken as a symbol of strength in his clan but inwardly they punish themselves for not being tolerant and compromising at the circumstances.
Aristotle’s Poetics says that the best kind of tragic hero is a man highly esteemed and prosperous who get trapped into a misfortune because of his false moral judgments or may be sometimes because of a purely intellectual error. As king Oedipus is pointed out as proud and over-confident, he makes unjustified suspicions against Teiresias and Creon and furthermore he expresses his uncertainties regarding the truth of oracles. Though a blasphemy but cannot be taken as the real reason behind his downfall. As downfall could not be, happen only on losing temper with Teiresias it lay in the incest Oedipus commits. He fulfills the prophecy of the oracles unknowingly turning the tragedy into ‘a tragedy of destiny’.
If we see Okonkow, he also shows his rage and power to those whom he has stopped by the Gods. He took part in killing a boy like his own son, morally ill which is but to show his manly greatness he did such an animal act. Which, the Gods did not like. He broke the weak of peace by beating up his wife and making the earth Goddesses angry. He kills a man of his clan and in punishment; he was exiled for seven years. He loses all his respect, land and money. From this point, his real downfall began. Moreover, he ends up at committing suicide.
By looking in a certain order, we could see that both the heroes are physically strong as Oedipus has conquered the land because of his good war skills, and Okonkow on the other hand has won many wrestling. That proves himself the strongest men, in the whole clan. So, here one requirement of being a tragic hero is fulfilled. Both could be called successful and as they have achievements in their lives. Oedipus passed on the riddle of Sphinx and took over the charge of the throne. Whereas, Okonkow was an achiever of his physical strength as he was a man who believed in physical action all the time, not in the polite words of negotiation. Moreover, his downfall was because of his impulsive anger and his fear of failure. As his anger forced him to a the wrong actions. That was of killing a person and breaking the peace week. Secondly, he was always haunted by the fear of failure, as he disliked his father for being physically weak and sensitive nature. That was the main reason he always preferred to show his emotion of anger not the love. That nobody get a reason to call him a weak emotional man. That behaviour of Okonkow could be called his Hubris. Locating the Hubris of Oedipus, we find that his pride to be so intellectual and his impulsive anger are the reasons behind his tragic turn. As in his anger, he challenges the prophecy of Tiresias the blind prophet. He accuses Creon and makes the gods angry. Hence, both the heroes having certain Hubris create reasons themselves for their own downfall.
After the down fall there comes the tragic end of both the heroes. The similarity of the tragic end is destruction of oneself by own hands. Both the heroes damage themselves. Oedipus blinds himself with the brooches and Okonkow hangs himself. Hence, both punish their own selves. However, Oedipus wounds himself because he could not tolerate the burden of incest he has done to his own mother. On the other hand, Okonkow kills himself because he could accept his physical defeat. After killing, a missionary when he knew there was no way of letting himself free from the physical punishment by the white missionary officer. He knew he would be considered weak and people would talk about him as a wrestler beaten by officers. He was not ready to accept such a blame of weakness. That is why even while dying he shows his clan a sign of his bravery and strength by killing his own self as normally people there were not brave enough to do so.
Dodds (1966) says that Sophocles had not read Freud, but he knew how people feel about things–better than some of his critics appear to do. In the same manner, we cannot trace out affective clues of true oedipal complex in the father/son relation of Unoka and Okonkow. As this hatred was because of nonsuccess of the father and Okonkow ‘had no patience with unsucessful men’. It was not because of Okonkow’s great love for his mother. Same it is the case with Enzima and Okonkow’s Electra complex. However, Achebe might have studied Frued but upon his work, it is not very predominant. As the reasons for loving at odd angles are not prominent, as much for hatred are.
Sophoclean chorus plays an important role in the movement of the drama. As it played by group of people having the certain traditions, habits and sequencing of the action they are performing. Thus, the chorus could be taken as a separate identity in Oedipus Rex. “It perceives; but its perception is at once wider and vaguer than that of a single man. It shares, in its way, the seeking action of the play as a whole; but it cannot act in all modes . . . (Fergusson, 1949)”. As chorus is the one of the fundamental parts of the Greek tragedy hence, it cannot be one the essentials of a tragic novel. Even then, we see the poetic verses in the novel Things Fall Apart. They reflect the celebration of the events they were sung at. As the genres are in contrast therefore, this point is going in contrast as it is about the essential features of the narratives.
Oracles are present in the setting of both the narratives. In the both settings people used to concern the oracles for their help and guidance. It was like a religious custom to them. But, we see that” oracles do not limit Oedipus’ freedom” (Gould, 1966). However, the fate in the case of Oedipus plays an important role, as many critics say that he was born with this ill fate and the prophecy of the prophets was right. Oedipus only moved towards the desirable goals. In addition, unknowingly he was in a sinful relation but still he will be considered a sinner. His actions resulted into troublesome consequences. On the other hand, in the case of Okonkow he brings his own destruction. All the tragedies for his life are created by his own nature. Moreover, it was his ill fate that after such a death he would not be buried normally after fulfilling all the rituals. Rather he would be thrown into the evil jungle and would not be buried in the soil. This was the kind of tragic death; Okonkow brings to his own life.
After a long comparative discussion we can conclude that yes, there are traces and influence of Greek literature on the African ones. Because when we dissect and operate the two texts, keeping in mind the comparative analysis. We can easily dig out the similarities and differences between the texts. Moreover, there is influence widely observed in Things Fall Apart. By, looking at the common aspects; the tragic heroes, the role of oracles, the role of fate presented in the both narratives. We can claim that yes, Things Fall Apart can also be considered and an exemplification of Greek tragedy.