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Literature Studies: “Wise Blood” by Flannery O’Connor Essay

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Updated: Mar 22nd, 2020

Flannery O’Connor came from a very religious Catholic family, and this factor has influenced her career as a writer and her works. The books by Flannery O’Connor are designed to explore various dimensions of faith and religion, a different understanding of sin and virtue, and the impacts religiousness or atheism can make on people. “Wise Blood” is very deep work. It has multiple layers and contains the messages delivered by the characters and the message coming from the author herself.

Flannery O’Connor’s novel called “Wise Blood,” tells the story of a young man named Hazel Motes, who experiences a major conflict of beliefs and fights Christianity. During the events in the novel, Hazel meets several people, each of whom has their faith issues.

The question of the “right” beliefs and they ways of being the good and devoted believer keeps occurring in the novel when Hazel travels to Taulkinham, meets a prostitute, a young and lonely zoo guard, a preacher that pretends to be blind and his fifteen year old daughter, a phony prophet, a scammer preacher, and a scheming landlady.

During the encounters with all of these people and their attitudes towards God and religion, hazel becomes more and more passionate about starting his church that would be the church without Jesus. Religious characters view Hazel Motes as a lost soul, who needs to be brought back to the light. Greedy characters see Motes as a source of the ideas for business that can be built on the base of a new set of beliefs. Lonely characters perceive Hazel as one of their kind, a lost and lonely person.

Hazel ends up getting tricked and lied to by each of the characters, and this leads to several conflicts that result in deaths or troubles for liars and phones and to the early decay and demise of Hazel himself. After blinding and torturing himself in a variety of ways, young Hazel ends up murdered in a ditch. The novel ends with the author stating that after Hazel died, his burnt eye sockets started to look like dark tunnels in which Hazel disappeared forever.

The main themes raised in Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood” are people’s perceptions of faith, religion, virtue, and sin. The author connects people’s struggle to be in peace with God and religion to their physical troubles and sufferings. O’Connor creates a story that is told on top of the untold stories of each of the characters.

The absurd of the situations that happen to the protagonists of “Wise Blood” is designed to make the readers realize how truly blind all of the characters are. O’Connor gradually leads her main character through all kinds of self-inflicted sufferings showing that his desperate desire to show everyone that Jesus was not real is a major religious obsession of Hazes.

This character’s numerous attempts to demonstrate that there is no Jesus look like nothing but his desire to convince himself that his beliefs are true. Searching for new followers of his church without Christ Hazel Motes tries to prove to himself that his beliefs can become a real thing, as only through become real for others, these ideas would become real for Haze. Motes often confront others trying to find their own mistakes and prove that none of them are true devoted believers.

He also becomes very angry when he notices that other self-pronounced prophets and preachers try to steal his “true beliefs” to make money. Motes feel the constant urge to convince everyone, even total strangers that he is not a believer.

He asks people he has never seen before, such as a woman on the train, “Do you think I believe in Jesus? Well, I wouldn’t even if he existed even if he was on this train” (O’Connor, 10). It sometimes feels like he is offended at Jesus and tried to take his revenge, but feels very weak doing it, so he requires the support from others.

Hazel’s ideas are demonstrating his rebellion against the faith of the family where he grew up. His grandfather’s words about Jesus willing to “die ten million deaths” before letting Hazel lose his soul made the boy feel involuntarily indebted to Jesus for his redemption and despised by his grandfather for this (O’Connor 16).

Hazel is deeply traumatized by the religion forced on him. As a result, he withdraws himself from everything remotely connected to Christianity. The society around Hazel deals with several other issues such are poverty, loneliness, social an family pressure, search for recognition and acceptance, and a standard young people’s desire to find their place in this world. Every single character in “Wise Blood” is lost in the chaos of their issues and troubles.

Some view religion and faith as a way to salvation, but not the spiritual one. Instead, most of Flannery O’Connor’s characters are trying to buy themselves better and more comfortable lives at the expense of religion. Individuals such as Enoch and Asa try to establish a kind of a trading relationship with faith and Jesus namely, hoping that their services and assistance, or their self-serving good deeds would be appreciated and rewarded by Jesus.

These characters are in search of material help; none of them are looking for spiritual salvation for their souls after death. Sabbath is a lost child because ever since being a baby she got victimized by her father, who convinced her that she does not deserve any kind of salvation by nature because of being born out of wedlock. This way, most of the characters are deeply injured psychologically and are desperate to become happy at any cost.

On top of his faith issues, Hazel also demonstrates clear signs of death-wish. He is aggressive with people; he always tries to pick up a fight; he wears a suit that makes him look like a priest to provoke others into religious talks and confrontations. In his childhood, when his younger brother died, Hazel felt a desire to lie into the coffin and be shut in it (O’Connor 14). Finally, at the end of the novel, he ends up injuring himself in various ways on purpose, which is a good demonstration of what his inner conflict did to his physical self.

The novel “Wise Blood” fist saw the world in 1952. It was the time after the Second World War was over; in American literature, this is classified as The Contemporary period. The best sign of this period in the novel is its main character, who is the World War II veteran. Even though Hazel is only twenty-two years old, he behaves and feels as if he was much older.

This might be viewed as a symptom of post-traumatic stress, which often leads its victim to slow self-destruction and causes several inner crises, this way Hazel’s crisis of faith and death-wish becomes strengthened by the fact that he saw the actual War. All of these features are rather typical for a protagonist of contemporary literary work.

The contemporary period literature is often focused on portraying the time of uncertainty and transitional phases with lots of depressed and lost individuals cooking in their own sad and frustrating environments, struggling to survive. The desperate desire to survive and get out of the frustrating environment made characters like Enoch, Shoats, Layfield, and Mrs. Flood hunt for money and forget about moral values and true spiritual principles.

Motes serves as the main reflection of his time, betrayed and broken, he refuses to hope for help from any divine creatures. Instead he claims that his “wise blood” is what is going to provide his with best advice and knowledge. Every character in the novel searched to be led and helped out by some forces; the force Hazel tried to rely on was his intuition. This way, Hazel is a symbol of a desperate time he lived in.

The language used in the novel is also a reflection of the period when the work was written. The author often uses the word “niggers,” referring to people of African origin in the United Sates. Her character Hazel addresses black people using this word, when he speaks to a porter on the train saying, “I remember you.

Your father was a nigger named Cash Parrum” (O’Connor 12). Hazel’s rude language serves as a demonstration of his ignorance and arrogance; not only does he despise black people, he looks down upon everyone who does not share his intentionally aggressive ideas. Looking for allies, he keeps being hostile and pushes away everyone who would get close to him.

O’Connor also contrasts her characters, adding specific speech patterns and habit to their manners of talking. For example, Hazel Motes speaks with Southeastern accent saying, “I ain’t from Tulkinham, don’t know nobody there” (O’Connor 7). The descriptions in the novel portray the world through the perceptions of Hazel Motes, an aggressive and depressed individual, extremely unfriendly and rude.

In the very beginning of the novel, his perception of the world around is contrasted against the views of Mrs. Hitchcock, his neighbor in the train car section. Mrs. Hitchcock tried to be nice and polite, making conversations, asking about Hazel’s plans for the journey, in response Motes threw rude criticisms in her face trying to confront her, or just ignored and interrupted her words.

According to Motes’ views, Mrs. Hitchcock is depicted as “a fat woman with pink collars and cuffs and pear-shaped legs that slanted off the train seat and didn’t reach the floor” (O’Connor 3). From the descriptions, it is noticeable that he is negative towards everyone and everything, he is constantly annoyed or angry.

The overall key of descriptions in “Wise Blood” paints quite a dark picture of the world, making it look cool and full of unpleasant events and people. The similes and comparisons view characters in a negative light matching them with crows or foxes. Even Jesus, traditionally known as the savior, is portrayed as a scary creature moving in the dark in the back of Hazel’s mind. All of these images reflect the gothic image of the world the way Motes saw it.

Works Cited

O’Connor, Flannery. Wise Blood. London, United Kingdom: Macmillan, 2007. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Literature Studies: "Wise Blood" by Flannery O’Connor'. 22 March.

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