What are some Southern themes that stand out in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I am not really sure if there are southern themes. To think that a particular "theme" might reflect a region and another theme might not might deny the complexity of the people and conditions that exist in different regions.  Having said this, we can see some basic ideas present in the Coen Brothers' work that have been echoed by others to reflect how the South is depicted in cultural art.  One such idea is the stress on religion and, in particular, a very orthodox version of it.  Pete and Delmar embracing baptism is representative of this.  At the same time, the element of racial discord and racial challenge is evident in the story, an element that has found its way throughout depictions of the South.  The Tommy Johnson character and his interactions with the Klan are representative of how the South, as a region, has been depicted as one in which racism and racial discord are almost intrinsic to the region.  At the same time, the wide open and agricultural condition of the South is one geographic element that makes the "Ulysses" type of narrative possible.  The connection to Homer would not be as strong if it were placed in the North or the Midwest.  The scale of Homer is able to be reached in the South, with wide open fields and areas from which "The Soggy Bottom Boys" can escape from the different adversaries they face.  Finally, I would suggest that the lack of faith in political and legal leadership such as corrupt politician and law enforcement officials are other thematic elements of the South depicted in the film that seem to resonate in cultural representations of the South.


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