How Can a Text Inspire Change or Consolidate Stability?

Categories: Odyssey

The Odyssey and O’Brother Where Art Thou both display the attitudes and beliefs towards god specific to the context they are set in. When compared, O’Brother Where Art Thou inspires change in the representation of god in The Odyssey. The Odyssey portrays the representation of god true to the social beliefs and attitudes that it was written in, where the Gods was considered the cause for everything. On the other hand, O’Brother Where Art Thou written by the Coen Brothers in 2000, set in the great depression also stays true to the social beliefs of when it was set, and unlike The Odyssey God is exploited rather than being praised being used for selfish reasons and is barely treated like a God.

The Odyssey is a traditional view of how God should be viewed in society, however the Coen Brothers give a realistic modern view of how God is treated in reality.

In Homer’s, the Odyssey the gods are represented as humanities divine overlords.

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They are intrinsically involved in the lives of all mortal men, rewarding and punishing as they sought fit, and their actions were always unchallenged. This representation of the gods in the Odyssey reflects the attitude and beliefs of the ancient Greek people at the time when the Odyssey was created. In the story itself, the Gods, both directly and indirectly, intervene and participate in the plotline as characters and not merely as external supernatural forces. This is particularly evident when Athena, disguised, shrouds Odysseus in a mist to conceal his identity from the suitors in Ithaca.

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She states, “Come, enough of this now. We’re both old hands at the arts of intrigue. Here, among mortal men you’re far the best at tactics … you never recognized me, did you? Pallas Athena, daughter of Zeus, who always stands beside you, shields you.” Here, Athena admits to everything. She confesses to Odysseus that she's always beside him no matter what. She has decided to leave her divine pedestal and involve herself in the life of Odysseus, in which if she was not involved in Odysseus’ journey, he most likely would have failed his journey. Reinforcing that the gods actively involved in the mortal world. On the other hand, Poseidon hates Odysseus as he has blinded his son and he is “forever fuming against him” (1:82). Polyphemus says: “Hear me, Poseidon … If I am yours indeed and you claim as your son, grant that Odysseus… may never reach his home in Ithaca. But if he is destined to see his friend again, to come once more to his own house and reach his native land, let him come late… having lost all his comrades, in a foreign ship, and let him find trouble in his home.”(13.526-534). After hearing his son, Poseidon tries his best to make Odysseus’ journey difficult by actively going out of his way and involving himself which ultimately hinders his journey. The interactions echo the importance that they are characters themselves and not just divine spiritual ideological figures. The interactions between the gods are also as important. This is evident directly at the beginning of the poem when we, as the audience, are exposed a the conversation between Zeus and Helios: “Father Zeus, and you other blessed, ever living Gods, take vengeance on the companion of Laertes’ son Odysseus…” The fact that we are privy to the conversations between the Gods means that they carry a significant role throughout the epic poem, which most likely would have been the belief at the time it was created. That is the ancient Greeks believed that the gods where always talking in the heavens, but they also believed that they would be the cause for specific events. This ideology is clearly represented throughout the book and is consolidating stability for the time it was set in.

In O’Brother Where Art Thou the concept of god is not fully understood or appreciated by any of the characters throughout the movie. Instead, God is there for the characters in times of need, for them to make a profit from, for other selfish reasons, and for them to discard their sins and wrong doings. This is similar to the attitude and beliefs at the time the movie was set. The main Christian people were lower-class citizens who could not afford an education and thus resorted to religion. These people were preyed upon by upper-middle class people, taking their good will and twisting it to profit. This is most evident through the character named Big Dan Teague. The exploitation of god can be seen in this particular scene where he is with Everett and Delmar. --- Insert Scene ---. When he states, “Sales… And what do I sell? the truth every blessed word of it. From genesis all the way down to revelations” he is obviously referring to the sales of bibles, which at first does not seem sinister. Until it is revealed in the next scene that he only does it for one reason --- Insert Scene ---. The camera remains eyeline of the three characters present. Delmar talks about “making money in the lords service” which Big Dan salutes Delmar and continues talking about Bible sales. We can assume when Big Dan agrees to the statement made by Delmar he sells bibles to serve God. The camera tilts up following Big Dan, signifying that he is powerful. But as seen he is the most powerful of the three, and after beating Everett and Delmar, he exclaims “It’s all about the money boys!”. This shows that he is not doing it for God but only for the money he receives. The exploitation of God is further strengthened toward the end of the film in this particular scene. --- Insert clip --- As seen Everett begins to pray which is very out of character as Everett is considered spiritually unaffiliated throughout the whole movie. The use of a crane rising over Everett revealing the noose shows the impending danger he faces. He obviously knows that he will not be able to be saved so selfishly he pleads to god even though he believes god does not exist. In the next scene he justifies his actions --- insert video ---. The use of a tilted high shot at the beginning of the scene shows the insignificance of the characters in contrast to their surroundings while also showing the peril they have also just faced. The three characters find themselves on a coffin generally representing death and Christianity. This could represent them clenching to the concept of god to save them from dying as seen in the previous scene. Delmar exclaims “A miracle, it was a miracle!”. Everett calls Delmar “ignorant”, stating that “they was going to flood this valley”. Pete and Delmar quickly deny declaring, “we praised the lord and he pitied us”. As per usual Everett falls to science stating, “There is a perfectly good scientific explanation for what happened”, after which Pete interrupts saying, “that ain’t the tune you were singing back there”. Obviously referring to the previous scene. Everett responds with, “any human being will cast about in a moment of stress”. Everett is highlighting that anyone would cry for help depending on the situation they are in. This reinforces that God at the time was only used for exploitation.

The representation of God in O’Brother Where Art Thou inspires change from the representation of God in The Odyssey. O’Brother Where Art Thou challenges the preconceived notion of what God really means to people. In O’Brother Where Art Thou God is exploited and is not worshipped unlike in its counter-part The Odyssey, where the gods are considered and represented as the overlords of humanity. But in relation to the contexts that these two texts where set in they both consolidate stability, reinforcing the attitudes and beliefs at the time they were set, but O’Brother Where Art Thou is parodistic, exaggerating almost everything throughout the movie.


Updated: Dec 12, 2023
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How Can a Text Inspire Change or Consolidate Stability?. (2021, Feb 12). Retrieved from

How Can a Text Inspire Change or Consolidate Stability? essay
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