Oh Hero, What Art Thou?
Heroes are found everywhere. They have been integrated into humanity in both the past and the present, through all types of media, from the heroes of Greek mythology to the heroes of DC Comics, such as Batman and Nightwing. As humanity advances, its ideas about these idealistic protagonists have kept their original image, while also developing into something more. The Odyssey is considered to be one of the oldest surviving stories about the tales of a hero. To this day, people who spin stories have reused and recycled The Odyssey’s original concept into various other fictional media. For instance, the 2001 film, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is loosely based off of Homer’s epic, and contains many references and allusions to this great tale. Both The Odyssey and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” are about heroic protagonists‒Odysseus and Everett, respectively‒that go on an epic journey to return home. Since The Odyssey is an epic poem, created in 800 B.C. by Homer, while “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is a movie set in the 1930’s, written by the Coen Brothers, the interpretation of what a hero is differs between these two tales. Because values change and evolve as time goes on, Odysseus’ characterization and values as a hero are different from Everett’s. In today’s society and pop culture, a hero is perceived as always relatable to humans, no matter what. Many examples of this can be seen in movies, particularly Disney or Pixar films. The heroic main characters of the films are rarely ever human. Take Simba from The Lion King or the titular character of Wall-E as examples. Even though Simba is a lion and Wall-E is a robot, both exert human traits, making it easier for movie-watchers to relate to them. These protagonists prove that they can be human, abstractly speaking, and go the extra mile. Everett is written as an extremely human character, while Odysseus is written as if he is more of a demigod. Although both Odysseus and Everett’s statuses as heroes are arguable, Everett is the better heroic character because he exerts many human qualities and is able to go above and beyond because of his loyalty and compassion. Odysseus, however, cares only for himself and not for his comrades.
Loyalty, a character trait that belongs to humans and is desirable in heroes, is consistently present in Everett’s personality, making him a better heroic character when compared to Odysseus. Similar to the way Luke Skywalker never wavers from the light side in the pop-culture savvy movie, Star Wars, Everett never betrays his friends or his family. No matter the complications his friends, Pete and Delmar, are in involved in, due to Everett, he will always go back for them. In the midst of the film, Delmar is convinced that Pete has been turned into a toad. Big Dan Teague is about to crush the life of their companion turned toad. Both Everett and Delmar, already beaten to a pulp by the man, attempt to stop this terrible act from occurring, but they do not prevail. Horrified expressions adorn their faces at the sight of Pete’s remnants. It would have been far easier for Everett to run off, leaving Pete and Delmar to deal with Big Dan T. Instead, he stays with them, showing that he is loyal to them by not leaving his cohorts for dead. Later on, in another scene, Delmar’s theory that Pete was turned into a frog will be proven wrong. He and Everett encounter Pete while watching a film in the cinema. Pete tells them that he has not been turned into an amphibian by sirens, but rather turned into the police by them in order to for the sirens collect his bounty. Everett and Delmar proceed to break Pete out of jail, in total disregard to the danger. This is, yet again, a scenario where Everett could have deserted his friends, allowing himself to escape. Instead he rescues Pete, thus once again proving his loyalty to his companions. Everett’s loyalty towards Pete and Delmar, as seen numerous times throughout the movie, allows viewers to relate to him and see him perform beyond expectations; obviously making him the better heroic character.
In addition to staying true to his companions, Everett also cares for his friends and family. His displays of compassion are veiled through seemingly selfish acts in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”. Towards the end of the film, once Pete has been rescued, Pete admits to giving up the location of the treasure to the sheriff. Everett, then, reveals that the treasure is unreal and the only reason he escaped with Pete and Delmar is due to the fact that they were chained together and that he needed the help to escape. Everett apologizes and tells his two friends that they can go off on their own and leave him. Guilt can be seen in his body posture and heard in his voice. He does not manipulate or lie to them to get Pete and Delmar off his back, as he could have done in this scene. Being able to face and tell the truth is another trait of a hero. Everett would not have told his companions of the situation they were truly in, if he did not care for Pete and Delmar. In the same scene, Everett also discloses the reason for his journey back home: he needs to get back to his wife and prevent her from remarrying. He cares for her so much so that he breaks out of jail to get back home to her. Carrying out this act just to ensure her happiness demonstrates Everett’s compassion for her. Compassion is found in heroes, fictional or otherwise, as well as in everyday people. The extent of Everett’s ability to care is proven in odd and unconventional ways. Nonetheless, being able to put oneself in a risky position‒“a tight spot”‒just for the sake of another establishes Everett as the greater heroic character.
Despite all the feats Everett has accomplished, he still has flaws and makes mistakes, akin to Odysseus. Unlike Everett, however, Odysseus’ flaws and mistakes are far worse, and he lacks the heroic trait of selflessness to make up for his flaws. As mentioned many previous times, heroes succumb to emotion but acts on their better qualities. Odysseus rarely ever reveals what he is feeling, and when he does, he does not act on it in a positive manner. In contrast with Everett who acts on his emotion, causing him to always stay loyal to his friends and family, Odysseus does not go back for his men, no matter what he is feeling. There are many occurrences in The Odyssey where Odysseus abandons his men and does not return to their side. When he is facing Scylla and Charybdis, he “told them nothing, as they could do nothing,” (Homer, 1009). He goes on to say, “Then Scylla made her strike, whisking six of my best men form the ship. I happened to glance aft at ship and oarsmen and caught sight of their arms and legs, dangling high overhead. Voices came down to me in anguish, calling my name for the last time,” (Homer, 1010). In this stanza, Odysseus does so much as look at his suffering men but makes no attempt to save them. Heroes, in reality, are commended for the acts of bravery in times of danger. Odysseus is continuously presented with dangerous opportunities where he can prove himself as brave. Instead, he puts himself before his shipmates’ lives, showing no loyalty or compassion towards them. In one occasion, Odysseus and his men encounter the wrath of Helios. Zeus sends down a lightning bolt killing all of Odysseus’ shipmates. The Greek protagonist survives, but he does not even look back at his men. “They came up ‘round the wreck, bobbing awhile like petrels on the waves…I clambered fore and aft my hulk until a comber split her…I used [stout rawhide rope] for lashing mast and keel together. These I straddled, riding the frightful storm,” (Homer, 1015). He does not exhibit concern or grief for the loss of his men, nor does he feel anything for them. He only aids himself in his own escape. There are many instances, where Everett could have abandoned his friends, but he puts his friends’ wellbeing first, and saves them. A hero will always try and save someone from death, or will die trying. Odysseus is not a hero, because he is selfish and does not put the benefit of others before himself. Not only is his lack of selflessness inhumane, he is unable to go above and beyond due to this absence of heroic qualities.
What Everett lacks in brawn, he makes up for in his loyal and compassionate qualities, making it evident to readers and movie-watchers that Everett is the better heroic character. Similar to Odysseus, Everett has many flaws, but unlike the Greek protagonist, Everett bears his human side and acts on the better human qualities. For a heroic character to be successful and well-liked in literature and other media, said character’s humanity must be exposed. Superman, although he is an alien, succumbs to human emotions but makes the best of himself, in spite of the struggles he is facing. When he does overcome his emotion, he proves himself as a better man, and the better man will always be the better hero. Both Everett and Odysseus are merely men, but readers and viewers are able to see multiple emotions from Everett, instead of hubris and anger from Odysseus. Between Everett and Odysseus, it is clear to see Everett go through character development and have him further reach his potential of being a hero, a feat Odysseus does not comply to. Everett proves himself as a heroic character by acting on the better of his emotions instead of showing off his strength. In the animated film, “The Incredibles”, the antagonist, Syndrome, says, “…when everyone is super, no one will be.” This quote holds true. Not everyone can be a hero, but they are capable of doing so. In “O Brother Where Art Thou?” Everett’s capabilities are put to the test and he emerges as a hero.
(This essay was written as an assignment for an English class.)