"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and The Odyssey: a Comparison

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About this sample


Words: 1526 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Feb 9, 2023

Words: 1526|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Feb 9, 2023

Similarities between the Odyssey and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

When it comes to exploring the cultural and moral similarities between ancient literature and modern adaptations, "O Brother Where Art Thou" and The Odyssey are a perfect topic to delve into. The Odyssey has undergone countless translations and interpretations over many centuries, making it sometimes difficult to understand the cultural context of the original text. However, despite the time gap, this epic story still resonates with us and reflects many of the situations we experience in our lives. By comparison of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" to the Odyssey, this essay can examine the similarities between the two works and gain a deeper understanding of their enduring relevance.

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The more modern adaptation of the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”. The movie features a good comedic journey of three escaped convicts. Odysseus, the lead hero in The Odyssey, and Ulysses Everett McGill, the leader of the crew of convicts in “O Brother, Where Art Thou? “, both have similar goals and qualities when comparing the two of them. It is interesting to note that Ulysses is the Roman variation of the Greek name Odysseus. Both show signs of leadership and being very goal driven. Yet both can get easily off track and get their eyes off of the main goal, which keeps them further away from their families. Ultimately, the main goals they both have are trying to get home in any way that they can. Both are more goal-driven overall by being able to see their families again. They both experience spiritual growth throughout their travels. When comparing The Odyssey and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, the journeys that are experienced change their overall perspective of life. They both experience growth in spirit and in character.

With all of the hardships we all experience throughout life, both translations/adaptations show that the mistakes we make don’t define who we are or what we can become. Throughout Odysseus' journey, he commits many careless acts. Through committing adultery, he risks his crew's lives with his reckless plans. He relies on just strength to get him through battles rather than planning or quick thinking. By comparison, Ulysses uses his mind to his advantage. He uses the acts of either lying or conning. With his past criminal history of obtaining fake licenses in order to be successful, shows he does what he feels is necessary to get ahead or get himself out of any situation. Overall, it is shown he does care deeply for his wife and children. Even having to lie to both of his prison buddies about the treasure in order to escape imprisonment and stop his wife from getting remarried. The common plot with both of these stories revolves around the main characters trying to get back to their families after being away for long periods of time. They are both trying to get back home with many obstacles and difficulties blocking their path. They desperately want to return to their normal lives.

I feel throughout both stories, temptations were the majority of what caused the characters to get off track. They always are trying to get to their destinations, but there tend to always be things that misguide them. In The Odyssey, the many temptations Odysseus had happened while he was traveling through distant lands. He was able to find food and gain refuge through livestock and the people who lived there. He and his crew stole anything they felt would be necessary for their trips, like food and supplies. They ultimately did what they had to do to survive. He was very good with building connections and trust with the people around him, which ultimately caused him to get caught up and lose track of time. Sometimes he stayed in one place for too long.

Ulysses and his crew experienced similar situations. They would have to steal food and items they could sell in order to get by on their long journey. Stealing cars, trinkets, and even a pie. When Delmar and Pete were both baptized in the beginning of the movie (as the church members all gathered down by the river to be baptized), it showed they both wanted to put their crooked pasts behind them and start building a better life. Ulysses joked about how foolish this was at times throughout the movie. However in the end, he was almost hanged by the sheriff that had been chasing them since their grand escape.

I enjoyed the O Brother adaptation more as it brings a better comedic personality to the story. Adding in the old folk music that is sung throughout the film makes it more enjoyable. Throughout the movie, we see the struggles these three men have due to their troubling pasts catching up with them. Even at times putting their lives at risk. It can be seen throughout the movie that every similarity with The Odyssey was well thought out and gives good modern references to a great tale. Odysseus was punished by the gods for fighting against the trojans in the trojan war.

With the story of O Brother, them being fugitives makes it much more difficult to get back to a normal life. Having to avoid the law and not wanting to be noticed by others, forces them to have disguises or hide their faces. In the very beginning of the story, they start their rebelling adventure with meeting a blind railroad man. He tells them the prophecy “You seek a great fortune, you three who are now in chains, and you will find a fortune. Though it will not be the fortune you seek. But first, first you must travel a long and difficult road. A road fraught with peril, you shall see things. You shall see a cow on the roof of a cotton house, and oh so many startlements. I can not say how long this road shall be. But fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward. Though the road may wind, and your hearts grow weary, still shall you follow the way, even unto your salvation.” (Joel Coen, O Brother Where Art Thou? First scene). With the group never having seen or met this man it startled them. Through the story, they see the treasure that Ulysees allegedly hid during the armored car job he claimed to do. After Ulysees reveals to the group there never was any treasure. The journey they have displayed growth for them. Risking their own lives to save Tommy, their new friend, from almost being killed by the KKK group. When separated from Tommy and Pete, both members of this group, they risked their own lives in order to save people they care about.

Odysseus shows moments of caring for his group. He uses teamwork with his men to outsmart Polyphemus. He understands the risk of having to sacrifice men in order to accomplish the tasks at hand. He shows he cares about the men that he is on this journey with. “My friends! We will not yet go down to Hades, sad though we are, before our fated day. Come on, since we have food and drink on board, let us not starve ourselves; now time to eat!”. This shows him taking a moment to care for the men around him. His leadership qualities show as he takes a moment to make sure his men take a moment to rest and nurture themselves. He has earned their respect to be the leader they feel they need in their eyes. Odysseus has great qualities of short-term memories in battle. He understands losing men and keeping the group focused is one of his main tasks.

Each version of the text allows you to see the different versions of two characters. Both being punished by higher powers for the faults they have done in the past. Odysseus was punished by the gods for fighting on the wrong side in the Trojan War. He is kept away and sent on a spiraling long journey to get back home. Ulysses and his gang are chased for the majority of their long journey by The sheriff and a crew of police. Forcing them to alternate their routes to get to the treasure and have unexpectedly quick escapes. Throughout both stories, they are met with challenges that require them to adjust to the situations.

Both of these stories display great amounts of desire for what the main characters want. Odysseus does have the desire to finally get home to Ithica after being away so long from his family. Ulysses is in the same boat as he is trying desperately to have his wife take him back after being sent away so long. Both of these men show they have great determination. Even with Odysseus gets off track and sometimes stays in one place too long, he does know his true home is Ithica with his wife and his son. Ulysses shows he cares deeply for his children and his wife as well as he will do almost anything imaginable to gain them back.

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"O Brother Where Art Thou?" is a great southern tale of the great epic story from the author Homer. The Odyssey shows great lessons of struggle, leadership, courage, and love. With its timeless teachings, it is not hard to believe how the story has stood the test of time and is still relevant in the lives of today.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Comparison of ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ and Odyssey. (2023, February 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from
“Comparison of ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ and Odyssey.” GradesFixer, 09 Feb. 2023,
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Comparison of ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ and Odyssey [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Feb 09 [cited 2024 Jun 20]. Available from:
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