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Wise Blood (1952)

by Flannery O'Connor

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,4401063,046 (3.85)235
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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» See also 235 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 105 (next | show all)
This is Flannery O"Connor's debut novel. It is an offbeat story about the quest for a spiritual life. Set in Tennessee just after WWII, the cast if characters are entertaining. Somehow the story felt disjointed, not flowing smoothly. An ok read. ( )
  hemlokgang | May 17, 2022 |
A bunch of damaged people meet and hate each other in a southern gothic tale of woe. ( )
  nbornstein | Mar 5, 2022 |
I can't say that I really enjoyed Flannery O'Connor's "Wise Blood", but I can confidently say that there isn't much like it out there. I imagine that Southerners who love their hometowns but wish that some of the cruder stereotypes about the South -- and some of the more retrograde attitudes in the South -- would fade away are not going to enjoy this one. Every single major character in "Wise Blood" comes off as either hopelessly backward or more than halfway to certifiable. The overall impression one gets is that the South is a wild, primitive place filled to the brim with monomanical crazies. I've read "National Geographic" profiles of places that seemed more recognizable to me than O'Connor's description of Taukingham, Alabama. Of course, as is the case with a lot of books that lack any genuinely sane characters, the overall effect here is discomfiting in the extreme. It's not a long book, nor is its prose particularly difficult, but I found this one to be a pretty tough read. It's hard not to feel trapped in it. It creeped me out from beginning to end.

This isn't to say that "Wise Blood" is nothing but a freak show. It relies on the grotesque to drive its points home, yes, but the central theme of "Wise Blood" is one that you find in a lot of Southern lit. It is, in the end, a book about stasis and frustration. We see characters struggle to escape their histories, their thought patterns, their situations, and Taukingham itself, but little seems to change. Because the novel's characters are, to a man, Not Quite Right, they are almost constitutionally incapable of gaining any perspective on their own actions. O'Connor -- bless her -- is too good a writer to state this explicitly, which means that she lays out these painful, darkly humorous contradictions rather than spelling them out for the reader. Britons who complain that Americans can't seem to understand irony would do well to read this one. While this novel isn't laugh-out-loud funny, O'Connor seems to have had a deep understanding of irony and contradiction. Even so, as skilled a performance as "Wise Blood" is, I was glad to put this one back on the shelf. I think I'll be reading something whose characters and setting I can more-or-less identify with next. Maybe I'll read something about somebody who likes reading books and spends too much time looking at pictures of cute cats on the internet, or something. ( )
  TheAmpersand | Feb 26, 2022 |
Redemption Road

In her letter (O’Connor was a prolific letter writer) responding to reader Ben Griffith (3/54), O’Connor remarked halfway through about Wise Blood this way: “…it is entirely Redemption-centered in thought….perhaps it is hard to see because H. Motes is such an admirable nihilist.” And, indeed, it would seem redemption is the theme, as in the end Motes does come back as a corpse to his landlady Mrs. Flood, who sums things up succinctly: “Well, Mr. Motes, I see you’ve come home!” Of course, as readers discover after a bit of consideration, there’s more to see here in addition to and mostly in support of the redemption idea.

For Motes’ return concludes a rough journey that turns on the conflict of free will vs. determinism, but which also allows O’Connor to address other concerns, among them the question of what constitutes truth, blind faith vs. empiricism, humankind’s spiritual aspiration vs. animalism, human isolation even in a crowded world, and violence.

Some of these strike the reader immediately and on nearly every page of the novella, most particularly the conflict between free will and determinism. For example, Motes is in full rebellion against religion in which he had been inculcated since boyhood. Returning home from war a wounded vet, he rejects religion and even tries establishing and proselytizing his own anti-religion, the Church Without Christ. To no avail, though, as to everybody who sees him, he appears marked as a preacher. The suit and hat certainly don’t help much, nor his constant ranting about Truth. He cannot seem, no matter how hard he tries, to escape his fate; it has been ordained for him. The Truth he espouses is the empirical: what we see, feel, and experience in our temporal world. This doesn’t allow for religious trappings, like a soul, redemption, or salvation, The Truth to the vast majority, including O’Connor.

O’Connor paints a pretty bleak picture of Taulkinham, barren lands, dirty streets, confining rooms, and a preponderance of pigs roaming the landscape, not to mention a citizenry that often feels alien in its grotesqueness. Among these folks are Asa Hawks (the ersatz blind preacher), Sabbath Lily Hawks (the 15-year-old daughter who sets about to seduce Motes, providing a sin for redemption), Onnie Jay Holy (the charlatan preacher who steals and corrupts Motes’ church and Motes’ concept of Truth, prompting another sin by Motes), Mrs. Flood (the landlady), and Enoch Emery, the 18-old-boy in search of human companionship.

Enoch lives up to his name in his dedication to Motes, in spite of Motes constantly ignoring and outrightly rejecting him. More, though, Enoch aspires to one thing: friendship. Pitched out as a child and shunned by Taulkinham, he bemoans the town as thoroughly unfriendly. Warm companionship is purely aspirational for Enoch, for his Wise Blood, his instinctual driver, forces him to do things quite alienating, like peeping on women at the local swimming pool, indulging in sweets (his animal desires), regularly insulting people, and the like. He also holds a fascination for animals (the animal nature of humans) and works at the zoo. In the end, his aspiration for friendship falls away and he finds himself in a kind of hell; that is, in an ape costume spurned by humankind.

Further on this concept of baseness, Mrs. Flood exhibits distrustfulness. It’s interesting that Motes comes to spend a version of eternity with her in his little hermit's nest, for she has been suspicious throughout the story that Motes is trying to put something over on her. She can’t figure out what it is but she knows it’s there. (This, as an aside, is a trait Othello would have benefited from regarding Iago.)

As for the other concerns of the novel, isolation and violence, you’ll find ample examples scattered throughout, not the least of which is Motes’ withdrawal from the world, characterized by his self-blinding and tiny room, and the brutal treatment of children and the murders committed by the key characters.

In short, while Wise Blood may appear simple, and certainly is short, O’Connor crowds and layers its pages with a lot of weighty contemplation on the salvation of humankind, thought provoking ideas that force readers to slow down and dig deeper into the text and themselves. ( )
  write-review | Nov 4, 2021 |
Redemption Road

In her letter (O’Connor was a prolific letter writer) responding to reader Ben Griffith (3/54), O’Connor remarked halfway through about Wise Blood this way: “…it is entirely Redemption-centered in thought….perhaps it is hard to see because H. Motes is such an admirable nihilist.” And, indeed, it would seem redemption is the theme, as in the end Motes does come back as a corpse to his landlady Mrs. Flood, who sums things up succinctly: “Well, Mr. Motes, I see you’ve come home!” Of course, as readers discover after a bit of consideration, there’s more to see here in addition to and mostly in support of the redemption idea.

For Motes’ return concludes a rough journey that turns on the conflict of free will vs. determinism, but which also allows O’Connor to address other concerns, among them the question of what constitutes truth, blind faith vs. empiricism, humankind’s spiritual aspiration vs. animalism, human isolation even in a crowded world, and violence.

Some of these strike the reader immediately and on nearly every page of the novella, most particularly the conflict between free will and determinism. For example, Motes is in full rebellion against religion in which he had been inculcated since boyhood. Returning home from war a wounded vet, he rejects religion and even tries establishing and proselytizing his own anti-religion, the Church Without Christ. To no avail, though, as to everybody who sees him, he appears marked as a preacher. The suit and hat certainly don’t help much, nor his constant ranting about Truth. He cannot seem, no matter how hard he tries, to escape his fate; it has been ordained for him. The Truth he espouses is the empirical: what we see, feel, and experience in our temporal world. This doesn’t allow for religious trappings, like a soul, redemption, or salvation, The Truth to the vast majority, including O’Connor.

O’Connor paints a pretty bleak picture of Taulkinham, barren lands, dirty streets, confining rooms, and a preponderance of pigs roaming the landscape, not to mention a citizenry that often feels alien in its grotesqueness. Among these folks are Asa Hawks (the ersatz blind preacher), Sabbath Lily Hawks (the 15-year-old daughter who sets about to seduce Motes, providing a sin for redemption), Onnie Jay Holy (the charlatan preacher who steals and corrupts Motes’ church and Motes’ concept of Truth, prompting another sin by Motes), Mrs. Flood (the landlady), and Enoch Emery, the 18-old-boy in search of human companionship.

Enoch lives up to his name in his dedication to Motes, in spite of Motes constantly ignoring and outrightly rejecting him. More, though, Enoch aspires to one thing: friendship. Pitched out as a child and shunned by Taulkinham, he bemoans the town as thoroughly unfriendly. Warm companionship is purely aspirational for Enoch, for his Wise Blood, his instinctual driver, forces him to do things quite alienating, like peeping on women at the local swimming pool, indulging in sweets (his animal desires), regularly insulting people, and the like. He also holds a fascination for animals (the animal nature of humans) and works at the zoo. In the end, his aspiration for friendship falls away and he finds himself in a kind of hell; that is, in an ape costume spurned by humankind.

Further on this concept of baseness, Mrs. Flood exhibits distrustfulness. It’s interesting that Motes comes to spend a version of eternity with her in his little hermit's nest, for she has been suspicious throughout the story that Motes is trying to put something over on her. She can’t figure out what it is but she knows it’s there. (This, as an aside, is a trait Othello would have benefited from regarding Iago.)

As for the other concerns of the novel, isolation and violence, you’ll find ample examples scattered throughout, not the least of which is Motes’ withdrawal from the world, characterized by his self-blinding and tiny room, and the brutal treatment of children and the murders committed by the key characters.

In short, while Wise Blood may appear simple, and certainly is short, O’Connor crowds and layers its pages with a lot of weighty contemplation on the salvation of humankind, thought provoking ideas that force readers to slow down and dig deeper into the text and themselves. ( )
  write-review | Nov 4, 2021 |
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Pinchot, BronsonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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