Odyssey vs O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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In Odyssey, the main character Odysseus leaves his land and family in order to battle for an ally’s kidnapped wife, the battle of Troy. He spends a decade later trying to return home, battling various ills and evils so that he may eventually be able to return home. In his long absence, his wife Penelope has the battle of her own to resist the suitors congregating in her home in an attempt to win her hand in marriage.

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Their son Telemachus battles a mostly internal war in both missing his father and despising the suitors who are ruining his home and overtaking his life.

In O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the three main characters Everett McGill, Pete Hogwallop, and Delmar O’Donnell escape from a prison chain gang. Everett convinced his fellow inmates that he has hidden a treasure that must be recovered before his hometown is flooded in the name of progress and the creation of a dam. Unbeknownst to his companions until near the end of the film, he is actually in prison for unlawful practice of law, and the treasure does not exist. The trio travels back to McGill’s hometown, with many interesting adventures along the way, including meeting a blind man who foretells their future, McGill’s attempts to woo and win over his wife Penny, and becoming a famous singing trio who receive a pardon for their crimes due to their immense popularity.

Homer’s epic The Odyssey and Ethan Coen and Joel Coen’s movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? are remarkably similar despite several large differences. The most notable differences between the two media are the setting, the number of primary characters, and the history and story of the main character(s). The similarities are numerous, and include the varying array of adventures, the theme of nostos, and the pursuit of material reward.

In Homer’s epic, the story takes place centuries ago, while the Coen’s movie takes place very recently, in the 1930’s. These differences bring with them different cultures and values. In Odysseus’ time, honor was valued above nearly all else. Homer shares a story of men who were highly valued when they died in battle, which was considered a good, respectable death. In the time period McGill, Hogwallop and O’Donnell lived, honor was not as valued. Rather than being men who were very well off, who left home to do battle, these three are escaped convicts. They hold no honor, something that is very evident when Everett McGill finds that his wife is engaged to another man and has lied to their daughters, preferring to tell them that their father was hit and killed by a train than to tell them he has been jailed.

Odysseus’ wife Penelope waits for him for ten years,

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