Communication II07 December 1999 A Contrast In AbsurdityFlannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood explores a grotesque world ofsurrealistic imagery, ridiculous characters, bleak settings, and sinfulreligion. Throughout the book, two primary characters struggle for thetruth and ultimately find it.
Both characters explore themselves inwardly,but quite differently, Hazel Motes, the main character of the story, seeksthe truth through profane sin, and Enoch Emery, a developed minorcharacter, seeks the truth through his instinct-his “wise blood.” His”wise blood,” which he believed he inherited from his father, drove him todo unnatural things, a harsh contrast to Haze, who did unnatural things outof logic.Hazel loses himself, empties himself in his struggle with, andsearches for transcendence. His salvation if to be achieved at all is tobe achieved through sin.Hazel Motes has the temperament of a martyr; he spends most of thebook trying to get God to go away. As a child he’s convinced that “the wayto avoid Jesus was to avoid sin” (O’Connor 11).
When that doesn’t work,and when he returns from the Army determined to convert from evil tonothing, he still cannot go anywhere without being mistaken for a preacher.(The hat and glare blue suit did not help.) No matter what Hazel does, hefeels Jesus is all around him and can not escape his thoughts.
After serving four years, Hazel Motes has just been discharged fromthe Army and in route to Taulkinham on a train. Motes has just left hishometown of Eastward, Tennessee; he went there first and found it totallydeserted. He is moving on now looking for a place to settle with his newlife. Within the first chapter of Wise Bloodthree things are evident: he has a fear of death (more the actuallyentombing then actual death), his negative attitude towards religion andsalvation, and the subject of “home” (where home is). Hazel’s fear ofdeath is made evident through his dreams. On the train he is placed in aberth, which reminds him of a coffin he saw at his fathers funeral.
Hedreams that his father is in the coffin and wants to refuse death by notallowing it to close. When the coffin does close his father is not able todo anything but lie there like a corpse. The fear and question ofsalvation is obvious, his grandfather was a preacher and he was destined tobe one since a young age. The things he feared all were from sermons hisgrandfather preach. Haze has a fear of the unknown, he has heard of Jesusbut never seen him.
He wants the security of what is recognized andexpected. With all of this taken into account, “he has no home in theworld, and he is fiercely committed to the belief that he has no soul”(McFarland 75).Once settling in Taulkinham Motes bought a car, an Essex; he usedthis car as his home, a church, and an escape to another town. He startshis own church he called “The Church of Christ Without Christ,” he preachedall his sermons on the street at the hood of his car. He draws theattention of two devoted individuals, Sabbath Lily Hawks a sexually devotedyoung girl and a religious devoted Enoch Emery. Enoch “like Haze he is aseeker; but, first and last, he is seeking friends” (Orvell 87). “WhileHazel’s attention is throughout directed to “higher” things than man andhis relation with men, Enoch’s concern is with man in his lowest relations-with animals.
Enoch is portrayed as a zookeeper, and one who, feelinggreater kinship with his charges than with visitors to the zoo, is, atbest, precisely his brothers’ keeper. Yet, like Cain and Abel, Enoch andthe animals seem to entertain mutually hostile and rival attitudes” (Orvell88). Sabbath Lily Hawks is the daughter of Asa Hawks, a con man who leadspeople to believe he blinded himself because of his faith in Jesus.When Enoch takes a mummy to Hazel wanting it to be his new Jesus,Sabbath answerers the door and is told to make sure Hazel receives it.Lilly Hawks carries it as a child and presents it to Hazel as if it weretheir child; the furious Hazel grabs the ancient mummy and throws itagainst the wall, smashing it to pieces.
Enoch deserts Hazel to hunt forhis own salvation. He exits the story dressed up in a gorilla gazing froma Pisgah view of Taulkinham. Enoch and Sabbath disappear from Hazel’s lifeand he has no other believers.Hazel finds out he has imitators; one of them is Solace Layfield.Hazel believes Solace to be untruthful to his faith; he ran him down in hiscar and killed him. Hazel’s car is pushed off a cliff by a not so friendlypolice officer. Motes returns to his home where he spends the rest of hisdays blinding himself, wrapping barbed wire around his chest, and walkingin shoes that are filled with glass and rocks. His landlord wants to marryhim; he of course will not accept the offer and turns her proposal down.
Haze leaves Mrs. Flood (the land lord), the unhappy landlady wantshim to return; she calls the police and tells them he owes her rent money.The police find him and end up beating him to death when he refuses toreturn. Mrs. Flood had her wish, Haze was brought back, but it was onlyhis corpse.Hazel’s horrific journey through the novel confronts him with sight,blood, and idolatry. O’ Connor continually mentions Hazel’s eyes or hiseyesight.
Early in the novel images of his “deep set pecan,” (O’Connor 1)eyes darting from one part of the train to the other, not liking anythingthey see. Through his denial of God and his assertion that you should onlybelieve what you see, the theme of sight and more importantly blindnessbecomes the major focus in the work. Hazel’s self-blinding acts as theultimate rejection of his earlier creed, marking not a change in thecharacter, but a circular growth back to his upbringing. ” FlanneryO’Connor like Sophocles, uses the physical act of blinding not merely forits dramatic impact but also to awaken the full force of the many symbolicimplications of sight-ignorance, blindness-knowledge, light-darkness, death-light” (Walters 1). Blood also plays a major role in understanding Hazel.His grandfather and father both dealt with earthly temptations, as doesHazel. Exposed to religion all of his life, his instinctual urges becomesuppressed overtime through church, the army, and his grandfather.
HisEssex pulpit derives from his grandfather’s preaching, as does his raggedflight for Jesus, described as a monkey swinging from vine to vine.Finally, Hazel’s false idolatry of nothingness finally leads him to theinevitable meeting with his monkey. Drawn like a mosquito for life-givingblood, Haze seeks the “Secular City” (Giannone 23) to practice his new”Church Without Christ” religion and inundatehimself with life giving sins. Mrs.
Watts, a sex goddess, discoveredenshrined in a rumpled bed, Sabbath Lily, a girl whom Hazel wants toseduce, and a woman swimming in a pool all draw Hazel into sexual impurity.He even idolizes his worn out, barely living car, his Essex. The car’sdestitute state reflects his values, both religiously and physically. He,at first, refuses to acknowledge this. Hazel first starts to question notonly his car, but also his religion, when his car breaks down on the oldcountry road and he has to walk to a near gas station to find help. The”thoughtful” old man with “sandy coloredteeth,” “slate blue eyes” and “only one arm,” said “only two words” whileexamining Hazel’s car.(O’Connor 116) Haze furiously told him, “It’s a goodcar that car’ll get me anywhere I want to go,” but still the old man saidnothing.(O’Connor 116) Only when Haze asked him how much he owed, did theold man finally speak, “Nothing.
Not a thing.” (O’Connor 116) This incidentshows Hazel’s doubt about both his car and religion, as the old man takeson the manner of a god-like figure to him. Only after his car falls intothe ocean does Hazel see its true worth and allows himself to see a “sign”from God.Enoch’s character also deals with sight, blood and false idolatry.Enoch’s sight, unlike Haze’s, involves an inner-sight rather than relyingon the concrete. O’Connor describes her comic, flat character as such: “Forthe time, he knew that what he didn’t know only mattered.” In a letter to afriend, she mentioned that, “Everything Enoch said and did was as plain tome as my hand.
” (Walter 2) His reliance on inner-sight, on instinct, becamethe driving force of Enoch’s existence. His daily activities relied on hisinstinct. “Sometimes, he didn’t think, he only wondered; then before longhe would find himself doing this or that, like a bird finds itself buildinga nest when it hasn’t actually been planning it.”(Walter 2) This relianceon instinct reflects in his false idolization of animals. The distortedpicture of the “intelligent” moose, which always looked shocked becausenothing better could be expected and not amused because nothing was funnytowered over Enoch, as a manifestation of God, until Enoch removes theframe, thus undressing him, rebuking him. His final act of idolizationcomes when he steels the gorilla suit from the movie star.
“Once in the gorilla suit, Enoch feels himself endowed with the peculiarphysical and personal powers that will ensure his future success.” (Walter2) His “wise blood” now embraces his instinctual animal religion and he,like Hazel, finds a place with his maker. Comically, the same Jesus thatswung from vine to vine, following Hazel, has now totally swallowed Enoch,snagging Enoch with a vine in his animalistic rite.But who, in O’Connor’s mind has the true “wise blood?” Thecomparisons between Hazel and Enoch reveal two sides of humanity: one oflogic and one of instinct. Perhaps, though, neither suffices when dealingwith religion. O’Connor presents a world of self-blindness.
This self-blindness embodies itself in Mrs. Flood, Hazel’s landlord. After Hazeblinds himself, Mrs. Flood has a feeling that she has been tricked,although she cannot say how or why. Her obvious blindness towards Hazel’struth becomes the all-encompassing theme of the novel.
Neither Enoch’sinstinct nor Mrs. Flood’s self-blinding to the truth lead them to anopening in the “long dark tunnel” which Haze easily finds once he correctshis spiritual blindness. This spiritual blindness, which has flavoredtwentieth century life, is not the result of alienation, but the cause ofit. Embracing God, while blinding yourself to mortality, enables thealienation from religion to vanish. Works CitedGiannone, Richard. Flannery O’Connor and the Mystery of Love.
Urabana: U ofIllinois, 1989.McFarland, Dorothy. Flannery O’Connor. New York: Frederick Ungar PublishingCo, 1976.O’Connor, Flannery. Collected Works.
New York: The Library of America, 1988Orvell, Miles. Flannery O’Connor: An Introduction. Jackson: UP Mississippi,1991Walter, Dorothy. Comments on O’Connor. 07 Dec.1999http://www.