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Wise Blood: A Novel (1952)

by Flannery O'Connor

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3,135913,005 (3.85)219
Flannery O'Connor's astonishing and haunting first novel is a classic of twentieth-century literature. It is the story of Hazel Motes, a twenty-two-year-old caught in an unending struggle against his innate, desperate faith. He falls under the spell of a "blind" street preacher named Asa Hawks and his degenerate fifteen-year-old daughter. In an ironic, malicious gesture of his own non-faith, and to prove himself a greater cynic than Hawks, Hazel founds The Church of God Without Christ, but is still thwarted in his efforts to lose God. He meets Enoch Emery, a young man with "wise blood," who leads him to a mummified holy child, and whose crazy maneuvers are a manifestation of Hazel's existential struggles. This tale of redemption, retribution, false prophets, blindness, and wisdom gives us one of the most riveting characters in American fiction.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
I found this to be a disturbing novel. The narrative leaps unpredictably around and the unexpected happens. Hazel Motes returns from the army to an evangelical city. He declares himself a preacher for The Church Without Christ and stands on the bonnet of a dilapidated car he has purchased outside cinemas preaching. There are a number of other characters in the novel, none of them likeable but some of them people who are damaged in some way. Enoch works at the zoo and seems keen to be friends with Hazel. There is a preacher who claims to be blind, Asa Hawkes, and his daughter and Mrs Flood, his landlady, who feels sure she is being cheated by Hazel if only she could pinpoint how. This comes together as a disturbing and sad world and it is hard to say this was an enjoyable novel. ( )
  Tifi | Sep 9, 2020 |
The title that I would suggest for this book is "The Denial". Not that Wise Blood is not appropriate, as it refers to the "wise blood" of Enoch Emery, one of the group of prominent characters in the book. It is rather because I believe that "The Denial" better represents the character of Hazel Motes who is the protagonist of the novel. The moment that Enoch Emery is overcome by his "wise blood" is surely powerful: "He had come to the city and--with a knowing in his blood--he had established himself at the heart of it."(p 76) On the other hand Hazel, by the end of the novel, is engulfed by his denial of his own body in his attempt to achieve a spiritual epiphany.

To reach that point of denial you have to go back to the beginning of the story where we meet Hazel Motes:
"Hazel Motes sat at a forward angle on the green plush train seat, looking one minute at the window as if he might want to jump out of it, and the next down the aisle at the other end of the car."(p 3)
Thus we meet a young man on the beginning of a journey. It is a journey fleeing from his past as much as it is one going forward toward a future filled with new people and changes in his own character.
Hazel, it turns out, is a man on a mission to preach of new and perverse sort of gospel to anyone who will listen whether they respond or not. This hearkens back to his grandfather who was a preacher "with Jesus hidden in his head like a stinger."(p 14) Hazel had lost his brothers and father to death, and had seen more death and indifference toward life while in the Army, but he was determined to follow in his grandfather's footsteps.

The story is a picaresque tale filled with unusual characters including a whore; a blind preacher named Asa with his daughter, Sabbath Lily; and Enoch Emery, a slow boy who is also on a mission moved by his inner blood that is wiser than any one else's as he proclaims to Hazel:
"'You act like you got wiser blood than anybody else,' he said, 'but you ain't! I'm the one has it. Not you, Me!'"(p 55) What they both share is a mission although they are on different paths with different missions and seemingly do not even speak the same language, or at least cannot understand each other.

As with all of Flannery O'Connor's fiction, there is an underlying message of the importance of faith and belief. The need for redemption from the sin of this world is demonstrated with a prose style that is fixated on the realities of life. However, in demonstrating this reality the author distorts it with the result often being grotesque characters and situations. She does not shy away from portraying the violence that people do to each other both physical and psychological. Ultimately, it is up to the reader to decide what the outcome of the story is -- whether any particular character is doomed to hell or redeemed by grace. All told, she presents a riveting story with unpredictable events and decisions that retain an aura of the believable while engendering puzzlement and a sort of quandary as to the meaning of it all. This reader found it both engaging and challenging in a good way, that is the questions that remain are valuable because they pertain to the most fundamental aspects of your life. ( )
  jwhenderson | Aug 7, 2020 |
Wise Blood is a delightful foray into the gospel and preachings of Hazel Motes, a man obsessed with Jesus even though he doesn't believe in him. What I really enjoyed about this novel is O'Connor's through line with Motes, centering the narrative around his exploits and basically sending him spinning like a top into urban life, that continues until the end of the book. The absurdities in the novel are hilarious but more poignant are the still, small instances drawing on the theme of sight and of the truth within lies. ( )
  b.masonjudy | Apr 3, 2020 |
What a strange world. During the intro to the second addition O'Conner bills it as a comic novel, and there are a couple perfectly executed scenes that prompt a laugh or smirk. What it really comes across as, though, is an eerie and mostly alienating existential novel. Characters who are alienated from themselves, the world, each other and the reader. And all of them rather unlikeable. Deeply unlikeable and difficult to relate to, even as humans. The writing is on point, of course, and I want to rate this higher- but there is just too much disturbing aftertaste oozing out of the story (in classic O'Conner style). Maybe I'll feel better once I have some distance between it and myself. ( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
O’Connor wrote about the strange world she found herself living within in twentieth-century rural Georgia. Her characters were exceedingly strange, even grotesque. However, as her stories unfolded, the reader got inside these characters’ world-views. Indeed, they became relatable and empathy for their condition grows.

Wise Blood is no exception for this trend. This work is O’Connor’s first great work. She tells the story of the relationships between several characters who, to say the least, are very odd. One character pokes his own eyes out in order to blind himself. He is blinded to the presence of a widow who seeks security in serving him. Another character proclaims a “Church without Christ” – a group of people free of metaphysics. These characters all have in common a basic approach to reality: Instead of working with what’s in front of them, they all seek to impose their will upon their own existence. And that leads to their basic oddity.

Indeed, themes of alienation and estrangement are all over this book. No character seeks gratitude, virtue, or enjoyment. They are all simply seeking something that they don’t find at all. They all seem stuck in a deep rut that is governed by their personalities. Being country folk, they seem completely oblivious to social norms. Indeed, one character spends time staring through binoculars at city folk at a swimming pool. He finds the conventions of women foreign and lustfully ogles them through the bushes. Al this seems strange, odd, and alienated from how life ought to be lived.

The specter of American fundamentalism stands behind all of these stories. No one is educated in the ways of the day. Instead, they all react to what’s going on around them. Even the “Church without Christ” is essentially a counter-position to the religion that this character finds all around him. O’Connor’s characters all seem “Christ-haunted” as she describes what transpires around herself. O’Connor was a devout Roman Catholic. She saw what she could only portray as the excesses of Protestantism surrounding her.

To her, Protestantism seemed like a form of indoctrination through religious teaching. It did not perceive reality but seemed to impose itself and its order upon reality. Hence the Christ-haunting. This religious practice instead of saving people, made people grotesque and alienated.

One could only wonder what O’Connor would say about the American South in the age of Trump. Seemingly, people would seem only more estranged from their essential purpose in life. Instead of building character and virtue, people merely seek power, security, and lesser things. As such, O’Connor’s social critique in Wise Blood only seems still relevant to contemporary American culture. She offers no answers except the timeless answer of being “clear sighted” to what is going on around you.

( )
  scottjpearson | Jan 25, 2020 |
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Hazel Motes sat at a forward angle on the green plush train seat, looking one minute at the window as if he might want to jump out of it, and the next down the aisle at the other end of the car.
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Flannery O'Connor's astonishing and haunting first novel is a classic of twentieth-century literature. It is the story of Hazel Motes, a twenty-two-year-old caught in an unending struggle against his innate, desperate faith. He falls under the spell of a "blind" street preacher named Asa Hawks and his degenerate fifteen-year-old daughter. In an ironic, malicious gesture of his own non-faith, and to prove himself a greater cynic than Hawks, Hazel founds The Church of God Without Christ, but is still thwarted in his efforts to lose God. He meets Enoch Emery, a young man with "wise blood," who leads him to a mummified holy child, and whose crazy maneuvers are a manifestation of Hazel's existential struggles. This tale of redemption, retribution, false prophets, blindness, and wisdom gives us one of the most riveting characters in American fiction.

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Hazel Motes returns from the military to find his home abandoned. He is a man in religious crisis. His own grandfather was a revival preacher, yet he has rejected not only faith, but the entire story of Jesus.
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