Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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Parallels between O Brother Where Art Thou and The Odyssey


O Brother, Where Art Thou? parallels The Odyssey in several ways. Both feature a protagonist named Ulysses (or Odysseus) on a journey home, encountering similar characters like a blind prophet, sirens, and a one-eyed antagonist. Themes of cunning, loyalty, and the struggle against fate also link the two stories, despite their different settings and contexts.

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What parallels between O Brother Where Art Thou and The Odyssey can you identify?

One strong parallel between The Odyssey and the movie O Brother Where Art Thou is the blind railroad man who tells the three runaways their future (they will see a...a cow on the roof of a cotton house). In the Odyssey, Odysseus meets Tireseus from the underworld, also a blind man who tells him his future. 

In O Brother Where Art Thou, the three men (Pete, Delmar, and Everett) meet three women who get them drunk and take Pete back to prison for money. In The Odyssey, Odysseus runs into the three sirens, beautiful women who sing and cause him to become confused. (In the movie, their song is "Go to sleep you little baby..."). 

Both Everett and Odysseus are trying to return to their families after an extended amount of time apart. Everett was in prison, however, Odysseus was nobly serving in the war. However, one difference between the two is Odysseus is a very physical, strong man while Everett is not as much physical as he is intelligent. However, when it comes down to it, they are both just men--compared to stories where the main character is some sort of demi-god (Hercules).

In the movie, Everett and Delmar meet Big Man Teague who effectively robs them under the pretense of wanting to begin a business arrangement with them. Big Man Teague also has an eye patch over one eye, causing him to look somewhat like a cyclops. Similarly, Odysseus has to run away from the brute of a cyclops--the difference here being that the cyclops is purely out for a physical destruction of Odysseus--Teague doesn't care if he physically destroys Everett and Delmar, but he cares about the financial side of it. 

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How is The Odyssey present in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?

O Brother Where Art Thou? has several allusions to The Odyssey in its narrative, themes, and characters.

Firstly, the George Clooney character, Ulysses, is based directly on Odysseus. (Ulysses is the Latin variation of the name Odysseus, which is important to keep in mind.) Like Odysseus, he yearns to return home and reunite with his wife (called Penny instead of Penelope in this story). He undergoes a journey wherein he meets strange and menacing figures who want to prevent him from achieving his goal for a variety of reasons.

Several characters in the film reference corresponding figures in Homer. The blind prophet Tiresias is replaced with an old blind man on the railway who also tells future events to the protagonist and his companions. The sirens are replaced with three shapely wash-women who drug the men with liquor. The KKK become a stand-in for the Cyclops, with the main characters disguising themselves as clansmen the same way Odysseus and his men used sheep's wool to disguise themselves during their escape.

And so on it goes. Though the plot isn't exactly the same as The Odyssey, the movie riffs a lot on the epic poem.

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