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Osysseus is typically portrayed as courageous, resourceful, resolute, adventurous, a good leader, and generally heroic. In W. S. Merwin's poem he is portrayed as a man who is getting weak, old, tired, burned out, and lacking in heroic qualities. Instead of having a positive goal, that of getting home to Penelope in Ithaca, he no longer seems, to W. S. Merwin to know or care where he is going. All women seem alike to him, so it doesn't matter whether he reaches his wife Penelope or stays with one of the other women on a different island. The tone of Merwin's poem is depressing. It is somewhat reminiscent of James Joyce's parody of the Homeric hero in his novel Ulysses. Merwin seems to be using Odysseus to represent modern man, a man who has lost his faith and purpose and is just kept moving through force of habit.
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