COMPARISON ON “THE ODYSSEY” AND
“OH BROTHER WHERE ART THOU”
2002 film, “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” based on Homers novel, “The Odyssey”
OH BROTHER WHERE ART THOU
• Loosely based on Homer's "Odyssey," the
movie deals with the picaresque adventures
of Ulysses Everett McGill and his companions
Delmar and Pete in 1930s Mississippi.
Sprung from a chain gang and trying to reach
Everett's home to recover the buried loot of a
bank heist, they are confronted by a series of
strange characters--among them sirens, a
Cyclops, bank robber George "Baby Face"
Nelson, a campaigning governor and his
opponent, a KKK lynch mob, and a blind
prophet who warns the trio that "the treasure
you seek shall not be the treasure you find."
Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), a suave, fast-taking convict, escapes from
incarceration in Mississippi during the Great Depression. He is chained to two other
prisoners, slow-witted Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) and hot-tempered Pete (John
Turturro), so the three must escape together. Everett convinces them that he has
hidden $1.2 million after robbing an armored car, and promises to split it with them.
They hitch a ride with an elderly blind man on a railway handcar, and he foretells that
they will indeed find a treasure, though it may not be the one they seek. They travel
on foot to visit Pete's cousin, Washington Hogwallop, who removes their shackles
and allows them to sleep in his barn. However, the trio is awakened by the
authorities after Hogwallop turns them in for the reward. The barn is set ablaze, but
Everett, Pete, and Delmar escape with the help of Hogwallop's rambunctious young
son (who drives them out of the fiery barn in a car). They continue their journey, and
encounter a religious congregation in the midst of a mass baptism. Pete and Delmar
are drawn in and are baptized as well, but Everett resists. They later pick up a
hitchhiking young black guitarist, Tommy Johnson (Chris Thomas King), who claims
he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for musical talent. They hear that the
nearby WEZY radio station pays people to sing into a can, so they pay a visit to the
blind disc jockey (Stephen Root), and sing a version of "Man of Constant Sorrow"
with Tommy accompanying them. Calling themselves The Soggy Bottom Boys, they
are paid cash and leave satisfied. However, unbeknownst to them, their record
becomes wildly popular around the state, with no one knowing the identity of the
That night the police track them down and find their car near their campsite.
Everett, Pete, and Delmar part ways with Tommy as they escape. The next day, they
meet famed robber George Baby face Nelson (Michael Badalucco), on the run from
police, and accompany him in robbing a bank. He gives them a share of the stolen
loot and departs. The trio encounters three sirens: beautiful women washing clothes
in the river, and are seduced by them. Delmar and Everett discover the next morning
that Pete has disappeared, and Delmar believes the women had turned him into a
toad (which was found in Pete's abandoned clothes). Carrying "Pete" in a
shoebox, Delmar and Everett go to a restaurant where they meet Big Dan Teague
(John Goodman), a one-eyed Bible salesman. Thinking that their box contains
money, Big Dan lures them to a field for an advanced tutorial on salesmanship. He
violently beats the two men, kills the toad after finding no cash, and steals their car.
Everett and Delmar arrive at Everett's hometown, where he attempts to speak to his
wife, Penny (Holly Hunter), mother of his seven daughters. He finds that Penny is
engaged to Vernon T. Waldrip. Rejected, Everett and Delmar attend a movie, where
a chain gang is in the audience. Pete, it turns out, was turned into the police by the
Sirens, and is once again in chains. In the theater, Pete advises his friends to
abandon their quest. That night, Everett and Delmar stealthily break him out of jail.
Pete tearfully confesses that, after threatened with death by the authorities, he
revealed their plans to find the armored car loot to the mysterious Sheriff
Cooley, who has been hunting them across the state. However, Everett reveals that
he fabricated the story to entice Pete and Delmar to escape with him. Everett had
At first glance, the obvious comparisons of the movie, “Oh Brother Where Art Thou”,
to the novel, “The Odyssey”, are the characters. The main characters in the movie,
Ulysses and Penelope, are the same as those in the novel; the Latin equivalent of the
Greek name Odysseus is Ulysses. The movie comes up with interesting ways to
incorporate other characters from the novel; along with one-eyed Big Dan as the
Cyclops. They catch a ride on a hand-pumped railway that is being operated by a
blind prophet, who tells them that they will not find the treasure they seek. The
prophet character in the Odyssey was Teiresias, whom Odysseus consulted in the
underworld when he needed information on how to get home again. "Pappy's" given
name, Menelaus, is the same as the king who declared war on Troy in the first place.
Coincidentally, Pappy's opposition for Governorship has the first name Homer.
Focusing on the scenes of the movie, the director mirrored many events in the book to the
events in the film. "Sing in me O Muse...", the line at the beginning of the film, is the first line of
the Odyssey. In the beginning of the film, we are told that Penelope is marrying another man
while Ulysses is away. Although some of the details are quite different, the same event occurs
while Odysseus is away. Many suitors come to Ithaca to marry Penelope, Odysseus’s wife.
Another big event portrayed from The Odyssey is the killing of the cattle of Helios by the "fools"
in the Odyssey; which is mirrored by the character in the movie, Baby Face Nelson, shooting the
cows while running from a bank robbery. Another interesting facet of the movie is the music. The
song which plays throughout the movie is called "Man of Constant Sorrow“. Odysseus means
"man who is in constant pain and sorrow." - a man of constant sorrow is also a description of
Odysseus. Another big comparison between the characters are “the bard” from the film, and
Homer. There is a "Blind Bard" who pays the boys to "sing into his can." Homer was often (and
probably erroneously) thought to be a blind bard who told his stories verbally to his students.
Much like the cave scene from the novel, in which Odysseus and his men hide from the Cyclops
by dressing as sheep, the KKK scene in the film mirrors the characters, who dress as KKK
members to escape being caught by “the Cyclops”.
• The movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is strikingly similar to Homer’s “Odyssey” in
both plot and character description. In fact, one critic notes, “O Brother Where Art
Thou?” is a Homeric journey through Mississippi during the Depression.”(Ebert p 1)
Thus, we find the modern film depiction of the troubles of a man during the
depression is molded by the ancient struggles of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey.
Specifically, three parallels surface in the discussion of the similarities between
Homer’s classic epic and “O Brother Where Art Thou?” The Cyclops encounter for
instance, is transcendent between both works. Furthermore, each story contains a
comparable perspective of the Lotus Eaters. Finally, the strongest parallel between
the “Odyssey” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is the mystical call of the Sirens
and the powers of the witch goddess Circe.
• The Cyclops encounter is transcendent between both works. The Cyclops, in the
“Odyssey” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” has obvious physical traits that connect
the two pieces of work. The Cyclops in each story is a large man, who only has one eye.
One website describe the Cyclopes race as, “a rough and uncivilized race of one-eyed
giants.”(Spark notes p1) Odysseus describe the giant as, “ A prodigious man who slept
in his cave alone, and took his flocks to graze afield---remote from all companions,
knowing none but savage ways, a brute so huge”(Wilkie p378). The encounter of the
Cyclops shows a great similarity in both of these stories. Odysseus, the main character
of the “Odyssey” and Ulysses, the main character of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” are
taken from of state of tranquility and savagely attacked. As described by Odysseus, “So
there all day, until the sun went down, we made our feast on meat galore, and wine”(p
377). This quote describes Odysseus and his men relaxing and enjoying a feast. Quite
similar in “O Brother Where Art Thou,” Ulysses was enjoying a picnic when the savage
Cyclops attacked him. When Ulysses and Odysseus were about to enjoy a peaceful day
they are overtaken by the Cyclops either imprisoned or robbed. Both Ulysses and
Odysseus mentality of a warrior allows them to fight back and eventually defeat the
Cyclops. In each story an attempt to blind the creature offers a distraction for each
• Secondly, each story contains a similar perspective of the Lotus Eaters. When you
eat the intoxicating fruit of the lotus, as described in the Odyssey, the thought of
home, purpose of voyage, and memories of the past are no longer important.
Odysseus and his men arrive at the land of the Lotus-Eaters and become addicted
and drawn to the fruit. They are so leered to the fruit, that it becomes a mindless
obsession. “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” becomes parallel to the story of the LotusEaters when Ulysses and his men are baptized. Webster’s dictionary defines
baptism as, “the Christian sacrament of sin and spiritual rebirth as a Christian.” Both
the “Odyssey” and “O Brother Where Art Thou?” describe a rebirth and new
thinking. The things of the past are no longer important. Rebirth of the soul and
becoming filled with the spirit are identical to the intoxication of the fruit.
Therefore, the producers of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” are describing baptisms
as a new beginning and new thought, then comparing it to the lotus eaters of the
• Finally, the strongest parallel between the “Odyssey” and “O Brother, Where Art
Thou?” is the mystical call of the Sirens and the powers of the witch-goddess Circe.
This parallel is the strongest element of comparison because it is very similar how
each story describes the Sirens. Odysseus is told in the “Odyssey,” “Square in your
ship’s path are the Sirens, crying beauty to bewitch men coasting by” (p 421). Both
Ulysses and Odysseus use wax to avoid the Sirens. Ulysses hair smelling of wax,
(hair wax) and Odysseus instructing his men to put wax in their ears is enough to
avoid the Sirens seductive song in each story. Avoiding the Sirens allows both
Ulysses and Odysseus to continue on their purpose of journey, to get home.
Another striking similarity is the witch goddess of Circe. In the “Odyssey,” Circe
turns one of Odysseus men into a pig. Parallel to the Homeric epic, one of Ulysses
men was supposedly turned into a frog. These two strong parallels sum up an
obvious influence of Homeric work in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
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