Joseph, throughout the course of his three meetings with his long-estranged brothers, cries repeatedly. How are we to interpret these tears? Are they of sadness or joy, or do they have a deeper purpose?
The portrayal of tears increase in intensity each time. It begins with his mild weeping and ends with a bawl that all of the palace hears. A clue to the emotion behind the tears is Joseph's actions directly following the tears. First, he sends them off coldly, feasts with them the second and finally reveals his identity to them in the last. There is a parallel between the increasing intensity of each tearing scene and his actions against his growing affection for them and recognition of their repentance. As he cries with more force, he is growing closer to his family and moving one step closer towards eventual reunion.
This mirrors Odysseus, who also cries repeatedly in the Odyssey. He cries when the bard's song incites his reminiscence of the losses and tragedy of war, and also when he meets Telemachus again in a recognition scene. Just as in Genesis, tears do not seem to be a sign of weakness. Odysseus and Joseph do not cry when they are weak or upset, rather, the tears come when they are experiencing powerful positive emotion. Odysseus when he remembers his Greek brothers who died in the war or Joseph when he sees Benjamin is well and safe. Tears serve as a plot device, to indicate that there is character development or foreshadow future events. Joseph's tears increase as a build up towards the eventual recognition, and grow in intensity as the repentance of the brothers are proved through their words and actions until they prove themselves worthy.