Comparing “O Brother, Where Are Thou?” to “The Odyssey”
The purpose of this essay is to compare and contrast the film O Brother Where Art Thou to The Odyssey by Homer. Without question, the film O Brother Where Art Thou is loosely based on Homer’s epic Poem (The Odyssey) but with one major twist, it is a modern retelling of the story set in the Deep South in the 1930’s. For the purpose of this paper the similarities of this film and the epic poem will be broken into two categories, references and parallels.
The references to the Odyssey that are given in the film are numerous. In the opening credits of the film a line of text “O Muse! Sing in me, and through me tell the story…” which is also the opening line of the The Odyssey.
The other major similarities are the character names. George Clooney’s character, Ulysses ‘Everett’ McGill and Ulysses is the Latin translation of Odysseus furthermore the wife’s character is named Penny which is the short form name for Penelope (Odysseus wife). The Governor of Mississippi in the film is Menelaus ‘Pappy’ ODaniel who shares the same first name as the Odysseus’s brother in arms and King of Sparta. Moreover the governor’s opponent in the election is a character names Homer Stokes who shares the same first name as the author of the epic poem. John Goodmans character Daniel “Big Dan” Teague is a character with only one good eye which may be considered homage to Polyphemus who was the Cyclops in the epic Poem. In the film there are a large group of women found cleaning clothes in the river it is their beautiful singing voices which bare a striking resemblance to the Sirens in the epic poem. Lastly, in the film there is a character who is a blind railroad hobo and it is this character who acts much like a prophet, one could argue that this character is in may respects very similar to Tiresias who portrays the blind ghost prophet in the poem.
In regards to parallels in the film which mirror that of the epic poem many examples can be found. For example it is he case that Everett’s Crew (Delmar and Pete) portray three themes found in Odysseus’s crew which is irresponsibility, irrationality and mutiny. It is the case that on many instances Pete rebels against Everett’s authority which is very similar to that of Eurylochus.
There is an excellent scene in the film where the crew members disguise themselves as members of the Ku Klux Klan in order to make a swift escape. It is the case that in the Odyssey, the crew members disguised themselves from the blind Cyclops by tying themselves to the underside of sheep in order to make their escape.
In the film the protagonist has a daughter whom until later in the film he had never seen in Person. The very same can be said for Odysseus who had mad many allusions to having never seen his child Telemachus.
As a final example and probably the most important parallel, it is the case that the character Delmar is making his journey back to his wife and encounters many difficult circumstances that hinder his progress, much like that of Odysseus. Everett is making his journey back to stop the marriage of his wife to Vernon much like Odysseus making the journey back to kill his wife’s suitors. Finally when Everett does actually confront Vernon he is badly beaten one could argue that this is similar to how Telemachus is unable to stop his mother’s suitors.
In conclusion it is the case that although one may not see all of the similarities between the Odyssey and O brother Where Art Thou on the surface, however it is the case that upon closer examination one can find many parallels between the film and the epic poem.