An brief essay on the similarities and differences between The Odyssey and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
Although it is only loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey and set in the Depression-era South, the film “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” contains a striking number of parallels to the classic epic. The inspiration of the story is shown clearly straight from the beginning of the book when a quote – the first few lines from The Odyssey – is displayed.
The main character is Ulysses Everett Grant, whose name is the Latin version of Odysseus, a smart, cunning, and talkative man similar to Odysseus. He is the natural leader of his band of escapees, much like Odysseus was a renowned commander, and leads them to his home. He is also vain like Odysseus, constantly worrying about his appearance and applying his Dapper Dan (“I’m a Dapper Dan Man,” he exclaims) hair gel religiously at various parts in the movie. Although he is mainly based on Odysseus, he also exemplifies traits of
Agamemnon in the part of the movie where he loses his faith in woman. Much like Agamemnon, he has a phase where he detests and distrusts all women, dismissing them as worthless cheats and liars.
He is not the only character that has counterparts in the Odysseus. His wife, Penny, is clearly based on Penelope. She is being courted by a suitor (yet another similarity between the two works), Vernon, and is also the wife of a man who had been long gone. She also represents Klytemnestra when she continues to betray Ulysses by offering herself to Vernon, though later she does indeed reunite with Ulysses (when they share their secret of the ring).
Minor characters are also related to people in the Odyssey. The blind railroad hobo in the film who tells Ulysses his prophecy is clearly Teiresias, the famed blind prophet who talks to Odysseus. The Cyclops is “Big Dan,” as both of them ambushed the main heroes of the works. Even The Sirens appear, in the form of three women who seduce Ulysses and his companions. They also represent Kirke: Delmar thinks Pete was turned into a toad by them. Finally, the sheriff represents Poseidon. He is a constant threat to Ulysses, much like Poseidon hated Odysseus, and he seemingly always knows where they are.
Many events are similar as well. For example, in one of the last scenes of the movie, Ulysses is forced to sneak into a dinner party in disguise to see his wife. This is reminiscent of how Odysseus, dressed as a beggar, snuck into his own great hall. Near the beginning of the movie, Ulysses meets a robber named George Nelson. Even when told not to, he shoots some cows in his mad dash from the cops. Later, he is sent to the electric chair and called a “cow killer.” This is relevant to when Odysseus’ men killed Helios’ sacred cattle and then got their just desserts.
Overall, the two works share many parallels. It’s clear that the directors of “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” looked to The Odyssey for inspiration – and rightly so, for The Odyssey is one of the defining works of historic literature. Many movies now follow the general epic storyline.