What are the main conflicts in Circe?

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In Madeline Miller’s retelling of the classical Greek tale, Circe rather than Odysseus is the hero. The primary conflict types are the individual versus society, as Circe finds herself pitted against strong social forces. Another significant conflict type is person versus person: Circe understands that she has met an...

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In Madeline Miller’s retelling of the classical Greek tale, Circe rather than Odysseus is the hero. The primary conflict types are the individual versus society, as Circe finds herself pitted against strong social forces. Another significant conflict type is person versus person: Circe understands that she has met an appropriate match in Odysseus, and she struggles to dominate him. A third type of conflict is gender-based, between elements of society; the female characters oppose the strongly patriarchal Greek society through exercising the powers that are transferred through the female line. We can also examine conflicts of the person versus themselves, or interior conflicts, which are especially evident in both Circe and Odysseus.

As an individual and as a female, as well as a goddess with some human characteristics, Circe is removed from the upper echelons of the divine world. Her gradual enlightenment to realize that immortality is not the exclusive benefit of divine status helps motivate her to take a more assertive, proactive stance. She learns how to apply her gift of prophecy to her own advantage, as well as when and how to injure or aid others.

Rather than continue to see herself as isolated, her interactions with Medea give her insights into female collective power as having greater strength than any individual’s power. Circe’s interactions with Odysseus and his men teach her more about the world of humans, including a new take on gendered conflicts—both as she had experienced among the gods and goddesses, and through her bewitching of men into swine. The limited effects of her enchantments on this mortal help reshape their conflict into cooperation and even romance, which helps her to resolve some of her inner turmoil.

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