Analyzing Tragic Heroes in Chapters 3&4 of Things Fall Apart
Can a person be both admirable and flawed at the same time? In this lesson, students will look more closely at the character of Okonkwo. Students will figure out what his most admirable qualities are, as well as some of his flaws. They will also decide whether Okonkwo has the potential to be a tragic hero.
Write - Pair - Share
- The purpose of this quick write is to provide some modern-day examples when you introduce the concept of a tragic hero.
- As students share, try to comment on aspects of the people they mentioned that are negative, or might fit the definition of a tragic hero. Tiger Woods is a modern athlete who might fit this definition.
- It might be helpful to write down recurring qualities that are introduced during the whole-group conversation.
In notebooks, write a response to the following question:
- Think about someone currently living (this person could be famous, or only known within his or her community) who is very respected by society. What makes this person respected? Does this person have any less-positive qualities?
In pairs, students should share their responses. Partners should detail what they notice in the other's response. Students should feel free to elaborate on their partner's response.
Finally, teachers will lead a class discussion using student examples.
Defining Tragic Hero
- Explain the concept of tragic hero to your class. Think of some figures from current events—politicians, celebrities, athletes, etc. who may be familiar to your students. Also, see if any of the people they described at the beginning of class can be used as examples.
- Ask the class whether they think Okonkwo could be a tragic hero. Talk about this only briefly; they will be discussing this further in groups.
- ELL: Allow ELLs to share about tragic heroes from their country of origin. Invite them to share the story behind each of them (since students in the United States might not have heard of them), and be sure to draw parallels with the figures they know in the United States.
What happens when a hero is imperfect? Such a hero is often referred to as a tragic hero. A tragic hero is usually a person of high standing and great ability, who has one or more character flaws (such as greed, arrogance, lust for power, etc.) that directly lead to his or her downfall. Commonly, the protagonist (main sympathetic character) of a tragedy is a tragic hero. Watch the attached video to summarize the new definition.
As your teacher explains the concept of a tragic hero, think about whether any of the people discussed in the opening discussion meet this definition. Brainstorm additional examples of tragic heroes with your classmates.
Characterization Close Read: Chapters 3 and 4
- Students will be working in their table groups, but for this part of the assignment everyone is analyzing the text in the same way.
- Try to check with each group to get a sense of how the class understands the events and Okonkwo’s character.
- As they think about how their character does or would view Okonkwo, some students will be working with direct interactions from the story (Nwoye, Ekwefi, etc.) while others will need to rely on inference (Mr. Brown, Reverend Smith, etc.).
- During the Whole Group Share, try to hear from each group, but don’t allow for too much repetition.
- ELL: When calling on students, be sure to call on ELLs and to encourage them to participate as actively as their native counterparts, even if their pace might be slower, or they might be more reluctant to volunteer due to their weaker command of the language.
With your table group, review Chapters 3 and 4 of Things Fall Apart, looking for characterization details about Okonkwo. Ask yourself, does Okonkwo have the potential to be a tragic hero? Look for quotations that reveal his heroic side, as well as his flaws. Follow the following steps in your group.
- Review and summarize the chapters you read for homework. Make sure everyone understands the basic events.
- Clarify any parts of the reading that were confusing and answer any questions that anyone had.
- Set up a dialectical journal entry in your notebook. On the left-hand side of your notebook, write down important quotes and page numbers that reveal key details or characteristics of Okonkwo. On the right-hand side, write down what you find significant about the quote. In other words, does the quotation reveal a heroic or flawed side of Okonkwo? How do you know? Although you will be working with your group, each member of the group is responsible for an entry with at least three quotations.
- Discuss your findings together and write a summary of your understanding of Okonkwo’s character at this point in the novel.
- After groups have finished their dialectical journal entries, a spokesperson from each group should share insights. The teacher will facilitate a class discussion about Okonkwo's heroic traits and flaws.
- Encourage students to continue the conversations with their community group’s entries. The more these entries are used, the richer the writing will be.
Review the definition of a tragic hero. After reviewing this concept, students should write a PEEL paragraph about the following prompt: At this point in the novel, does Okonkwo fit the criteria to be labeled a tragic hero? Students should include at least one of their characterization quotes as evidence to justify their claim.
If time allows, have students share their responses.