Short Lit Crit Response/Example

From Gerald R. Lucas

A Response to “Penelope’s Perspective: Character from Plot”[1]

In the essay “Penelope’s Perspective: Character from Plot,” Schein and Felson-Rubin assert that, despite traditional interpretation of the character of Penelope, Odysseus’s awaiting wife in the Odyssey, as one-dimensional and associated with a singular plot, that the character is instead multifaceted, complex, and the subject of multiple plots simultaneously. Schein and Felson-Rubin state that traditionally Penelope is seen as the subject of a marriage-avoidance plot with a subplot of return of husband, recovery of wife as bride, and vengeance against suitors, but says this “lacks autonomy, and its heroine seems to act more to suit her husband than out of personal desire” (Schein and Felson-Rubin 163).

Schein and Felson-Rubin assert that Penelope is more complex than just a faithful wife and foil to Agamemnon’s unfaithful description of his wife Klytaimestra. She says that most interpretations see the eventual contest set by Penelope to determine her chosen suitor is another cunning ploy or last ditched effort to delay the process of choosing until Odysseus can and does return home.

Schein and Felson-Ruben instead interpret this scene as Penelope actually accepting that she will wait no longer and conflicted between her choice to potentially commit infidelity in the unlikely return of her husband, and that Penelope may in fact enjoy the company of the suitors. She uses the passages from the epic depicting Penelope’s regret for her actions, begging Odysseus’ forgiveness, and her acceptance of gifts from the suitors and grief over the dream of the suitors’ deaths as evidence to show that the character is more complex and morally torn then she is usually described.

I agree with Schein and Felson-Rubin in the assertion that Penelope can be interpreted in a more complicated way than just the faithful wife and believe it makes her a much more interesting character. I think the interpretation of the character through more modern eyes has increased this complexity from what may have been originally intended.

It is possible that the original intent of Homer was to make Penelope a one plot character, whose only struggle was how she would continue to delay the suitors until Odysseus eventual return. With modern perspective and evaluating Penelope as a complex character in her own right we can acknowledge that she may have been conflicted in her waiting. She may have learned to find comfort in the company of her suitors who may have helped fill a void that the absence of her husband for decades had created. My interpretation of the character is that while she may have felt conflicted, she never gave up hope completely.

I think Schein and Felson-Rubin does a great job of illustrating her internal conflict depicted by her tears over her husband’s weapon and her begging his forgiveness for her decision once he reveled himself. I think that she set up the contest not from a desire to give up and find a suitor but from a last ditched effort to delay them. She knew it would be difficult for them and it was her last hope that her husband would return to her before they completed it. It was big gamble as eventually one of them would complete it and she would have to follow up on her word and I believe this is where her conflict came from.

I also think the interpretation of the dream of the eagle slaughtering the geese in her home and prophesizing Odysseus’ return can have multiple implications. While I think, as a complex character with a range of emotions, that it is possible that after 20 years she did find comfort in the presence of the suitors and did not want to se them slaughtered that the comfort she felt after waking was not at the sight of the geese and the dismissal of the dream but in the assurance of the eagle that represented her husband. With that being said, I think it makes Penelope and the Odyssey much more interesting to view her character from her perspective rather than from Odysseus’. She is not just his faithful wife and his reward for finally making his way home, she is instead a complex and morally torn character who is battling her desire to remain faithful to her husband and doing what she must to ensure the protection of her and her son.

Work Cited

Schein, Seth L.; Felson-Rubin, Nancy (1996). "Penelope's Perspective: Character from Plot". Reading the Odyssey: Selected Interpretive Essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 163–183.


  1. Written by Brandon Peters, ENGL 2111, March 15, 2022. Used here with permission of the author.