O Brother Where Art Thou

Authors use literary devices to enrich a story to move the action along. Three commonly used devices are a quest, the weather, and symbolism. Joel and Ethan Coen show their mastery of all three in their Academy Award-nominated film, “O Brother Where Art Thou,” an adaptation of the epic poem, “The Odyssey,” by Homer. In Chapter One of “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” Thomas Foster explains that a quest is broken into five parts. A quester, a place to go, a stated reason to go there, challenges and trials en route, and a real reason to go there.

In Chapter Ten, he explains that the type of weather archetype the author chooses to use foreshadows what’s about to happen. In Chapter 12, he writes that symbols don’t have just a singular meaning. If it does, then it is an allegory. “O Brother Where Art Thou” is a great example of how these three literary devices can work together to impact the movie’s plot.

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Joel and Ethan Coen set Ulysses Everett McGill, Pete Hogwallop, and Delmar O’Donnell out on a quest to get a hidden stash of money from a robbery pulled off by Everett, which is supposedly the reason why he is in prison, according to Everett. The trio must break out of the chain gang to reap the profits of the coveted treasure because the state is flooding the exact whereabouts of the money. Everett convinces both of his companions to join him on his quest.

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It turns out that this hidden stash of money never existed. Everett confesses to his fellow escapees that he had received a letter from his ex-wife telling him that she is getting remarried to a “bona fide” suitor. Everett’s quest was actually to recapture his lost love. After arguing about Everett’s lie, the three men continue to face challenges en route to find Everett’s wife.

Along the way, it’s clear the three convicts want a chance at a new life. Everett convinces Pete and Delmar to help him win his wife over at a Homer Stokes gala campaign dinner by performing a song that the trio had recorded earlier in the quest. Stokes recognizes them as the people who interfered with Stokes’ own Ku Klux Klan meeting. He demands the Soggy Bottom Boys, their stage name, be arrested. The crowd literally rides him out of town on a rail after he reveals his racist views, and incumbent candidate Pappy O’Daniel pardons the boys for their crimes. They will get that second chance at life. Now that Everett’s ex-wife has agreed to get married to him, Everett must find the wedding ring left in his cabin, thus creating another quest in the story. The boys arrive at the cabin, only to find their graves dug out and the sheriff ready to hang them. To everyone’s surprise—except maybe Everett‘s— the whole place is flooded. A ring is found amongst all the floating debris in the water. Turns out that it is the wrong ring, and that he still needs to find the real one to get married. Chapter One of “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” explains the five parts of a quest. “O Brother Where Art Thou” has three questers, which covers part one, a quester.

Part two is a place to go. Originally, they set out to find the stashed money, but then seek out Everett’s ex-wife and eventually a specific wedding ring. Next is a stated reason to go there. They travel to the money to get rich and live a fruitful life, seek out Everett’s wife to save his marriage, and search for a specific wedding ring for Everett to get married. Step four of a quest is the challenges the questers face en route to the place. The Soggy Bottom Boys encounter a lack of money, a bank robber, the Ku Klux Klan, the siren ladies, salesman Big Dan Teague, and a new fiancé, all while evading the authorities. The last step is a real reason to go there. Pete and Delmar were told by Everett that they were on the way to find a stash of money he had hidden, but the true reason to break out was to stop his ex-wife from marrying someone else. “O Brother Where Art Thou” is a textbook example of a quest according to “How to Read Literature Like a Professor.”

According to chapter ten of “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” weather is a plot device used to inject feeling and mood into the story. “O Brother Where Art Thou” uses weather for that exact reason. In the opening scenes, Elliot, Pete, and Delmar escape from the chain gang and catch a ride with an older blind man. The weather is sunny and warm, to illustrate feelings of hope and happiness. Throughout a major chunk of the movie, the weather is sunny and inviting. There are times that Joel and Ethan Coen insert bad weather to enhance a frightening and scary scene. When Pete is captured and interrogated by the sheriff, a thunderstorm rolls in. It gives a gloomy feeling to the scene. The sheriff describes it as “God’s own mercy.” Joel and Ethan Coen have the Soggy Bottom Boys sing “You are my sunshine” towards the end of the movie. Another song, “Keep on the Sunny Side,” plays more than once, emphasizing that the sunny side of life is preferable to the dark and stormy side. After the boys encounter the siren ladies and are convinced that Pete was turned into a toad and later killed, they pass by a chain gang in the back of a truck.

Everett sees Pete chained up, swinging away at rocks with his pickaxe, but he decides it must be a hallucination from the hot weather. The hot weather works against the boys, as possibly they could have broken out Pete right there in then but instead drive right past. When the trio goes to the cabin to retrieve a wedding ring so Everett can marry his ex-wife, the sheriff is waiting there with three nooses and three graves. It looks like the end of the road for the boys, but as Elliot is praying for a miracle, the flood comes through and saves them. The water is their savior, bailing them out of trouble. It is like the story of Noah’s Ark and how the whole world is flooded and only Noah’s family and a variety of types of animals are spared by God. The weather gives “O Brother Where Art Thou” some flavor and helps move the action along.

Symbolism provides multiple interpretations of one thing within a story. Chapter Twelve of “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” says that things that can have only one meaning are considered allegories. Allegories help create symbols in a literary piece. The use of symbols allows writers to convey meaning to the audience. The most noticeable symbols in “O Brother Where Art Thou” are water, fire, nooses, and cans of Dapper Dan. Pete and Delmar both get baptized in water while on their quest. It symbolizes rebirth and the cleansing of their sins. The water made Pete and Delmar feel better about themselves. After stumbling upon a Ku Klux Klan meeting, the first thing that meets their eyes is the big burning cross that all the Klan members are dancing around. They were set to hang an African American man, Tommy Johnson. The burning cross represents bigotry and hell on earth. Nooses make multiple appearances during the movie, whether it be for Tommy Johnson or Pete, Delmar, and Everett. A noose represents death and racial terrorism. Nooses are notoriously known for being used the most during executions during the 1900s and farther back. Elliot is the pretty boy out of the three. His dapper dan pomade only furthered enhanced his looks. Dapper dan symbolized Everett’s vanity. Symbolism in “O Brother Where Art Thou” enriches the story and intrigues viewers to further understand what Joel and Ethan Coen intended for the symbols to mean.

In “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” by Foster gives us an idea of what to expect from a quest, weather, and symbolism in a movie or piece of literature. The author gives all of the information that the audience receives. The author impacts everything that the audience is given, but the reader or viewer interprets what the writer has presented. Joel and Ethan Coen’s insert multiple quests into “O Brother Where Art Thou,” as well as riveting uses of weather and symbolism as the plot played out. The Coen brothers credit their Jewish heritage for their writing style and how they create plots for a movie. They love to have ambiguous endings so that the audiences can draw their own conclusions. Their love for an ambiguous ending is shown in “O Brother Where Art Thou” as Everett is told he found the wrong ring and has to find the right one to tie the knot with his lady. This leaves people wondering whether he does eventually get married. All in all, “O Brother Where Art Thou” is a perfect example of how authors can use the quest, weather, and symbolism to manipulate a story to their liking.

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O Brother Where Art Thou. (2021, Dec 27). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/o-brother-where-art-thou-essay

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