The Odyssey is an epic poem written by the famous author Homer. The Odyssey tells the story of a man named Odysseus and his ten year journey home during which he faces perilous dangers and difficult choices and in the end he finally reunites with his wife in his home of Ithaca. Unlike most well-known books, there is not a film adaptation of the story. There is, however, the movie O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? which is a film that is loosely based off of The Odyssey. There are many similarities between the two even though they are completely different stories.
Part of the reason The Odyssey is so well known is because it is about an ordinary man who faces realistic obstacles and manages to persevere despite not being a stereotypical hero.
Although it was not invented at the time, the plot line that Homer created still follows Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. The story begins with Odysseus in his homeland of Ithaca, his call to adventure was the opportunity to fight in the Trojan War and he gained assistance from his fellow soldiers. Although the Trojan war was dangerous, Odysseus truly crosses into a new world when he begins sailing home, ten years later once the war is done. During his journey back to Ithaca, he and his men face danger and claim power as they make their way home. Eventually, Odysseus finds himself back at Ithaca, this is his return, after winning back his wife the story is over and this is when his “new life” begins. O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? also follows The Hero’s Journey, the main character Everett Ulysses McGill is a reflection of Odysseus in the movie. He is an ordinary man with his men who make their way through many dangers on their long journey home.
Everett and Odysseus face some of the same obstacles and this is where the similarity between the film and Homer’s epic really shows. After escaping from prison three men, Everett, Pete, and Delmar encounter a blind man driving a hand car down a railroad, he offers them a lift. While they are riding the blind man predicts their future. He says that they will not find the treasure that they seek and that they will face many obstacles. This blind prophet correlates with Teiresias, the blind prophet of Apollo that Odysseus spoke to in The Land Of The Dead.
While camping out in the woods Pete, Everett, and Delmar suddenly find themselves in the middle of a group of churchgoers who are all walking towards the lake. Out of curiosity the men follow them and find that a priest is baptizing people in the lake to free them from their sins. Pete and Delmar ran into the lake to ask the priest to baptize them, after being baptized they run back to Everett rejoicing and telling him that they feel happy and free. Being baptized let the two men forget about the troubles of their journey for a short time, but Everett never took the opportunity just as Odysseus never ate the lotus flowers while all of his men ate them and forgot about their home and their mission.
At one point in the film the men are in need of money so they drive to a radio station where they can record a song for cash. They call themselves The Soggy Bottom Boys and sing the song “Man of Constant Sorrow”. The man who owns the radio station enjoys their song and pays them well. There is a similar situation in The Odyssey when Odysseus is with King Alcinous and he tells him the story of his journey and is given a ship ride home in return.
While driving to their destination Pete hears singing in the distance and forces Everett and Delmar to follow him and investigate. They find three women washing clothing in a river and singing a song. The women being to seduce the men, singing the entire time and eventually the men fall asleep. The three women represent the sirens from The Odyssey, but Odysseus and his crew end up avoiding them. When Delmar wakes up he sees that Pete is gone and finds a toad in his place. Pete was not actually a toad but Delmar and Everett did not know that. Pete “turning into a toad” represents when some of Odysseus’ men were turned into pigs by Circe, the Goddess of Magic.
After catching “Pete” Everett and Delmar went out for lunch and at the restaurant they met a man who was blind in one eye. The man represents Polyphemus the Cyclops and his name is Big Dan Teague. Big Dan tells them that they can earn money by selling Bibles with him. Everett and Pete were interested in the offer so they went with him up to a hill where Big Dan beat them up and stole their money. Then he squished “Pete” and ran. This situation is mirrored in The Odyssey when Odysseus and his men get trapped in Polyphemus’ cave and the Cyclops crushes and eats some of the men.
After arriving in town Everett sees his daughters singing together onstage. When he explains to them that he is their father they do not believe him because their mother, Penny, told them that Everett had been hit by a train. This is similar to when Telemachus did not recognize Odysseus when he was disguised and still did not believe that he was his father after he revealed his true self. Telemachus still thought that he was a God of some sort and could not be his father.
When Everett went into the shop to confront his wife,he met her fianc©, Vernon. Penny is still in love with Everett but was going to marry Vernon anyway, this is kind of how Penelope acted. She still loved Odysseus but she let the suitors stay at her home.
Later, Everett and Delmar went to the movie theatre. In the middle of the film a group of prisoners was escorted into the theatre, Pete was one of them. They were both obviously shocked because they thought that Pete was dead. Pete makes sure to tell them that they should not seek the treasure. This scene loosely correlates with The Land Of The Dead from The Odyssey. Odysseus goes to The Land Of The Dead and speaks to Tiresias the blind prophet of Apollo and Elpenor, one of his dead crew members. The setting is also similar both places are dark, grey, and foggy.
After reuniting with Pete, they find themselves outside of a Ku Klux Klan meeting and they see that the Klan members are about to kill Tommy, an African American guitarist they befriended earlier. To save him they steal KKK uniforms from the color guard and pretend to be part of the ceremony in order to get close to Tommy. This is like when Odysseus and his men hid under the bellies of Polyphemus’ sheep in order to escape from his cave. It turns out that Big Dan Teague is a part of the KKK and he notices the color guard acting strangely so he rips off their hoods. The men grab Tommy and run, before escaping they throw a Confederate Flag at Big Dan Teague and it nearly blinds him. Just like when Odysseus blinds Polyphemus with a giant wooden stake.
Finally Everett gets back together with his wife Penny but she refuses to marry him until he goes back to their old home and retrieves her old wedding ring. Penny is giving Everett a test just like when Penelope gave Odysseus the “bed test”. When Odysseus arrived he was in disguise no one knew who he was but Penelope did, she just had to be sure. Penelope asked a servant to move her bed out of her room for him to sleep in. She knew that only Odysseus would know that the bed was unmoveable.
O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Odyssey also have similar themes, the main theme in both of them is the importance of love and family. Both Odysseus and Everett embark on long challenging journeys to get back home to their wife and children. If they did not have family to get to they most likely would not have been so resilient in the when facing the hardships that were presented to them. They may have even given up because they could have just made a new life for themselves seeing as they would have been alone regardless. Both Odysseus and Everett put others in danger just so that they can reach their destination. They both put themselves in danger, and put themselves into possibly deadly situations just so that they can return home.
Homer’s epic conveys a more serious and powerful message, the film has the same theme but is more lighthearted and has comedic elements. In the film, the message of family loyalty is better displayed because Everett did stayed loyal to his wife throughout his journey while Odysseus did not. Also, in the film, family loyalty is a very clear theme and in The Odyssey this theme is apparent but is somewhat masked behind other important elements of the story. Both the epic and the film convey the very important message of love and family loyalty. The two works are incredibly different yet very similar and they both a good job of getting across the message that family is the most important thing in the world.
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