Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor’s impressive and eerie first novel, is a classic when it comes to twentieth-century literature. Despite being a revision of some of her most iconic work, critics often belittled Wise Blood’s success after its publication in 1952. This was because they either failed to grasp its many religious concepts or they chose not to. O’Connor showcases these religious concepts through the actions of her main character, Hazel Motes. Readers are first introduced to Hazel as he is returning home from World War Two and finds himself caught in a struggle between his fate to become a preacher and his personal views on Christianity. Hazel counteracts these struggles by creating the Church Without Christ, where he preaches on self-reliance rather than God. While he’s preaching, he ends up gaining a number of followers, most notably Enoch Emery and Sabbath Lily Hawks. Despite this, Hazel still finds himself infuriated by his inability to disregard the ideals of Christianity so he quickly becomes embittered with himself and the rest of the world. This results in Hazel enacting upon many grotesque physical, emotional, and sexual changes that cause his community to look at him differently but ultimately allows him to discover who he truly is. Wise Blood is the 236-page account of these changes and how they lead Hazel on a journey of self-discovery. Despite being a short novel, Wise Blood entails an infectious story-line filled to the brim with intuition and intense dialogue, loaded with comic irony. This allows for a very interesting story of self-discovery, as well as the analysis that religious belief and self-hatred can greatly influence a man’s actions in the twentieth century.
Introducing the readers to an entrancing story, Flannery O’Connor opens the novel on a train traveling through Tennessee in the mid-1900s’. Aboard the train is the main character, Hazel Motes, as he is coming home from serving in World War Two. His attire of a bright blue suit and a broad-brimmed hat cause people to mistake him as a preacher, but Hazel is quick to announce that he is an Atheist and sees Jesus as nothing more than a judgemental figure in the midst of his thoughts. In fact, when the train stops in the town of Taulkinham, Hazel gets off with the intention of proving that he doesn’t need Jesus or any of his redemptive qualities. As he goes about the town, Hazel meets Enoch Emory, an impressionable eighteen-year-old man who is an employee of the zoo in Taulkinham. Together, they encounter a blind preacher by the name of Asa Hawks and his bizarre daughter, Sabbath Lily. Despite having an only brief interaction with the two, Hazel quickly becomes obsessed and follows them to an unknown destination. Upon doing so, he is driven to create the Church Without Christ so he can preach about how he thinks that Christianity is a hoax, all men are supposedly “clean,” and neither sin nor redemption are real things. The next day, Hazel buys himself a car and uses it to seek out information regarding Asa Hawks address from Enoch. Enoch, being driven by his “wise blood”, leads Hazel to a mummified dwarf and reveals that he doesn’t know his address. Although he’s frustrated and throws a stone at Enoch’s head when finding this out, Hazel finds Asa Hawks apartment building later that night. During his visit, Hazel first tries to seduce Sabbath but ends up leaving to preach at one of the local movie theaters. He fails to attract anyone except for Solace Layfield, who turns out to be a hired conman and someone Hazel murders later on in the story. Hazel is deeply affected by this, and when he finds out that Asa Hawks is lying about being blind, he is devastated.
Meanwhile, Enoch has a feeling that he’s being transformed, so he steals the mummified dwarf from the museum and takes it to Hazel’s apartment. Although Enoch wished for it to be the new Jesus for the Church Without Christ, when he arrives home, Hazel takes the mummified dwarf and throws it out the window. Regardless, on his way to deliver the corpse to Hazel, Enoch stumbles upon an event for Gonga the Gorilla. At this event, Gonga will appear to shake the hands of a line of anxious children. However, he is soon revealed to be a person in a suit and in a strange turn of events, Enoch exits the plot of the book by stealing the suit, putting it on, and becoming the “gorilla” he was always meant to be. The next morning, Hazel, already forgetting that he knew Enoch, is stopped by a police officer on the highway. When the police officer tricks him into getting out of his car so he can push it down an embankment, Hazel seems as if he’s finally withdrawing himself from society, as his only response to the police officer is walking away. He then walks five miles back into town so he can purchase some limes and a bucket. This is so he can blind himself, as Asa Hawks had promised to do but failed in the previous years. Mrs. Flood, Hazel’s’ landlady, soon becomes obsessed with his care, even as he lives a very odd lifestyle, walking around with barbed wire around his chest and in shoes that are filled with stones and glass. When confronted about this, Hazel confesses to her that he is unclean and must pay. Becoming more curious about why this is, Mrs. Flood suggests that they get married. This proposition horrifies Hazel enough to make him leave in a freezing storm, even though he’s already sick and can barely walk. This results in an odd form of suicide and the ending of the novel, as Hazel is found dead by police officers two days later.
Written as a revision of some of O’Connor’s most iconic work, Hazel Motes journey of self-discovery perfectly shows how a man’s religious belief can influence his actions. Beginning his journey of self-discovery by being raised by a preacher, Hazel often thought he would become one himself. However, as previously mentioned, Hazel grows up to be a passionate atheist who, not believing in what he cannot see, now finds himself struggling with his religious belief against Christianity. This struggle was shown through all of his actions, but most commonly can be seen in those where he preaches about the Church Without Christ. Although he first created the church as a sense of mockery towards those like Asa Hawks, Hazel can be seen all throughout the novel using it as a serious platform to discuss his views on Christianity. For instance, Hazel can be seen forcefully yelling his views from the top of his car on page 140: “If you had been redeemed, you would care about Redemption, but you don’t. Look inside yourselves and see if you hadn’t rather it wasn’t if it was. There’s no place for the redeemed and I preach peace, I preach the Church without Christ, the church peaceful and satisfied! …If Jesus had redeemed you, what difference would it make to you? You wouldn’t do nothing about it. Your faces wouldn’t move, neither this way nor that, and if it was three crosses there and Him hung on the middle one, that you wouldn’t mean no more to me and me then the other two.”
He continues on the next page, saying: “Show me where the new jesus is and I’ll set him up in the Church without Christ and then you’ll see the truth. Then you’ll know once and for all that you haven’t been redeemed. Give me this new jesus, somebody, so we’ll all be saved by the sight of him!… Look at me! And you’ll see a peaceful man! Peaceful because my blood has set me free. Take counsel from your blood and come into the Church without Christ and maybe somebody will bring us a new jesus and we’ll all be saved by the sight of him!”
If he had simply believed in Christianity, Hazel would have never thought these things, let alone say them out loud. He would’ve just joined beside Asa Hawks in preaching about Jesus and Redemption, thus making the whole plot of the novel seemingly unimportant. Regardless, he does say these things so Hazel only reveals himself to be a strong atheist as well as someone who is influenced enough by their religious views to stand and yell them in front of a crowd. In addition, Hazel also reveals that these things will lead to him being influenced by another predominant factor in his life; self-hatred.
Being defined as “the hatred directed toward oneself rather than toward others”, self-hatred doesn’t appear to be an influence of Hazel’s actions until the beginning of the thirteenth chapter. At the start of this chapter, readers are reintroduced to Solace Layfield as he is preaching what seem to be the ideals of the Church without Christ. Despite the fact that Hazel was in desperate need of religious followers, he knows that Solace believes in Christianity and only began preaching for money, so he feels an intense amount of hatred and disgust when stumbling upon him. Blind to his own flaws, Hazel doesn’t realize that these feelings also root from his feelings towards himself and his inability to disregard his fate of Christianity. Nonetheless, Hazel decides to formulate a plan to turn his feelings into action. This plan is enacted on page 206, where Hazel brutally murders Solace with his car: “…The car knocked him flat and ran over him. Haze drove about twenty feet and stopped the car and then began to back it. He backed it over the body and then stopped and got out. The car stood half over the other Prophet as if it were pleased to guard what it had finally brought down.”
Flannery O’Connor finalizes Hazel’s actions at the bottom of the page, saying: “A lot of blood was coming out of him and forming a puddle around his head. He was motionless all for one finger that moved up and down in front of his face as if he were marking the time with it. Hazes poked his toe in his side and he wheezed for a second and then was quiet. “Two things I can’t stand,” Haze said, “-a man that ain’t true and one that mocks what is. You shouldn’t ever have tampered with me if you didn’t want what you got.”
By doing this with the intentions of destroying Solace, Hazel was unknowingly trying to destroy himself and the reminder of his own religious failures. In fact, a direct comparison of Solace and Hazel was made on page 206, even as Solace laid dead, underneath Hazel’s car: “The man didn’t look much like Hazes, lying on the ground on his face without his hat or suit on.” However, soon after, he becomes overpowered by the guilt this causes and concludes the chapter by buying limes from the store and painfully, blinding himself. All of these decisions equally represent how his actions were greatly influenced by his strong sense of self-hatred. Despite this being deemed outlandish and seemly useless due to his “suicide” at the end of the book, Hazel’s action of murdering Layfield can be seen as significant to his journey of self-discovery, and ultimately to Wise Blood as a whole.
Although deemed a preposterous book by the standards of the 21st-century, the story told in Wise Blood is one that is still taught in classrooms all around the world today. Through the work of Flannery O’Connor readers are able to learn a very interesting story of self-discovery, as well as how religious belief and self-hatred can greatly influence a man’s actions in the twentieth century. Obtaining the role of this man is Hazel Motes, whose story was written as a revision of some of O’Connor’s most iconic work. First introduced on a train traveling through Tennessee in the mid-1900s’, Hazel Motes is a World War Two Veteran who finds himself caught in a struggle between his fate to become a preacher and his personal views on Christianity. Going through his journey of self-discovery, Hazel can be seen dealing with these things as well as being greatly influenced by how they relate to his religious belief and self-hatred. Despite being raised by a preacher, Hazel grows up to be a passionate atheist who, not believing in what he cannot see, now finds himself struggling with his religious belief against Christianity. This struggle was shown through all of his actions, but most commonly can be seen in those where he preaches about the Church Without Christ. Gaining followers such as Enoch Emery and Sabbath Lily Hawks, Hazel’s preaching reveals him to be a strong atheist as well as someone who is greatly influenced enough by their religious views. In addition, Hazel also reveals that these things will lead to him being influenced by another predominant factor in his life; self-hatred. Being defined as “the hatred directed toward oneself rather than toward others”, self-hatred doesn’t appear to be an influence of Hazel’s actions until the beginning of the thirteenth chapter. Within this chapter, readers can witness Solace Layfield preaching what seem to be the ideals of the Church without Christ. Despite the fact that Hazel was in desperate need of religious followers, Hazel ends up killing Solace because he believes in Christianity and unknowingly reminds Hazel of his religious failures. However, after doing so, Hazel is overcome with guilt and blinds himself with limes. This leads Hazel to perform more acts of self-mutilation such as walking around with barbed wire around his chest and in shoes that are filled with stones and glass.
When confronted about this, Hazel not only confesses that he is unclean and must pay but leaves the next day in a freezing storm, even though he’s already sick and can barely walk. This results in the end of Hazel Motes’ self-discovery story as well as Wise Blood as he is found dead by police officers two days later. Although he didn’t fully finish his journey, the narrative of his actions in Wise Blood is something that makes the novel hard to put down. Not only does it question the reliability of the religion most people commonly believe in, but it also proves to be something everyone can learn from. Throughout Wise Blood, Hazel Motes is shown breaking the rules of religious belief in order to try and prove what he feels to be true. Although this task includes murder, self-mutilation, and an odd form of suicide, Hazel’s resilience and ambition are things everyone should keep in mind when wishing to enact upon something they strongly believe in.