A Contrast in Absurdity

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A Contrast in Absurdity


Communication II
07 December 1999
A Contrast In Absurdity
Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood explores a grotesque world of
surrealistic imagery, ridiculous characters, bleak settings, and sinful
religion. Throughout the book, two primary characters struggle for the
truth and ultimately find it. Both characters explore themselves inwardly,
but quite differently, Hazel Motes, the main character of the story, seeks
the truth through profane sin, and Enoch Emery, a developed minor
character, seeks the truth through his instinct-his “wise blood.” His
“wise blood,” which he believed he inherited from his father, drove him to
do unnatural things, a harsh contrast to Haze, who did unnatural things out
of logic.Hazel loses himself, empties himself in his struggle with, and
searches for transcendence. His salvation if to be achieved at all is to
be achieved through sin.

Hazel Motes has the temperament of a martyr; he spends most of the
book trying to get God to go away. As a child he’s convinced that “the way
to 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 to
nothing, 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, he
feels Jesus is all around him and can not escape his thoughts.

After serving four years, Hazel Motes has just been discharged from
the Army and in route to Taulkinham on a train. Motes has just left his
hometown of Eastward, Tennessee; he went there first and found it totally
deserted. He is moving on now looking for a place to settle with his new
life. Within the first chapter of Wise Blood
three things are evident: he has a fear of death (more the actually
entombing then actual death), his negative attitude towards religion and
salvation, and the subject of “home” (where home is). Hazel’s fear of
death is made evident through his dreams. On the train he is placed in a
berth, which reminds him of a coffin he saw at his fathers funeral. He
dreams that his father is in the coffin and wants to refuse death by not
allowing it to close. When the coffin does close his father is not able to
do anything but lie there like a corpse. The fear and question of
salvation is obvious, his grandfather was a preacher and he was destined to
be one since a young age. The things he feared all were from sermons his
grandfather preach. Haze has a fear of the unknown, he has heard of Jesus
but never seen him. He wants the security of what is recognized and
expected. With all of this taken into account, “he has no home in the
world, 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 used
this car as his home, a church, and an escape to another town. He starts
his own church he called “The Church of Christ Without Christ,” he preached
all his sermons on the street at the hood of his car. He draws the
attention of two devoted individuals, Sabbath Lily Hawks a sexually devoted
young girl and a religious devoted Enoch Emery. Enoch “like Haze he is a
seeker; but, first and last, he is seeking friends” (Orvell 87). “While
Hazel’s attention is throughout directed to “higher” things than man and
his relation with men, Enoch’s concern is with man in his lowest relations-
with animals. Enoch is portrayed as a zookeeper, and one who, feeling
greater kinship with his charges than with visitors to the zoo, is, at
best, precisely his brothers’ keeper. Yet, like Cain and Abel, Enoch and
the animals seem to entertain mutually hostile and rival attitudes” (Orvell
88). Sabbath Lily Hawks is the daughter of Asa Hawks, a con man who leads
people 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 were
their child; the furious Hazel grabs the ancient mummy and throws it
against the wall, smashing it to pieces. Enoch deserts Hazel to hunt for
his own salvation. He exits the story dressed up in a gorilla gazing from
a Pisgah view of Taulkinham. Enoch and Sabbath disappear from Hazel’s life
and 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 his
car and killed him. Hazel’s car is pushed off a cliff by a not so friendly
police officer. Motes returns to his home where he spends the rest of his
days blinding himself, wrapping barbed wire around his chest, and walking
in shoes that are filled with glass and rocks. His landlord wants to marry
him; he of course will not accept the offer and turns her proposal down.

Haze leaves Mrs. Flood (the land lord), the unhappy landlady wants
him 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 to
return. Mrs. Flood had her wish, Haze was brought back, but it was only
his corpse.

Hazel’s horrific journey through the novel confronts him with sight,
blood, and idolatry. O’ Connor continually mentions Hazel’s eyes or his
eyesight. 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 anything
they see. Through his denial of God and his assertion that you should only
believe what you see, the theme of sight and more importantly blindness
becomes the major focus in the work. Hazel’s self-blinding acts as the
ultimate rejection of his earlier creed, marking not a change in the
character, but a circular growth back to his upbringing. ” Flannery
O’Connor like Sophocles, uses the physical act of blinding not merely for
its dramatic impact but also to awaken the full force of the many symbolic
implications 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 does
Hazel. Exposed to religion all of his life, his instinctual urges become
suppressed overtime through church, the army, and his grandfather. His
Essex pulpit derives from his grandfather’s preaching, as does his ragged
flight for Jesus, described as a monkey swinging from vine to vine.

Finally, Hazel’s false idolatry of nothingness finally leads him to the
inevitable meeting with his monkey. Drawn like a mosquito for life-giving
blood, Haze seeks the “Secular City” (Giannone 23) to practice his new
“Church Without Christ” religion and inundate
himself with life giving sins. Mrs. Watts, a sex goddess, discovered
enshrined in a rumpled bed, Sabbath Lily, a girl whom Hazel wants to
seduce, 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’s
destitute state reflects his values, both religiously and physically. He,
at first, refuses to acknowledge this. Hazel first starts to question not
only his car, but also his religion, when his car breaks down on the old
country road and he has to walk to a near gas station to find help. The
“thoughtful” old man with “sandy colored
teeth,” “slate blue eyes” and “only one arm,” said “only two words” while
examining Hazel’s car.(O’Connor 116) Haze furiously told him, “It’s a good
car that car’ll get me anywhere I want to go,” but still the old man said
nothing.(O’Connor 116) Only when Haze asked him how much he owed, did the
old man finally speak, “Nothing. Not a thing.” (O’Connor 116) This incident
shows Hazel’s doubt about both his car and religion, as the old man takes
on the manner of a god-like figure to him. Only after his car falls into
the 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 relying
on the concrete. O’Connor describes her comic, flat character as such: “For
the time, he knew that what he didn’t know only mattered.” In a letter to a
friend, she mentioned that, “Everything Enoch said and did was as plain to
me as my hand.” (Walter 2) His reliance on inner-sight, on instinct, became
the driving force of Enoch’s existence. His daily activities relied on his
instinct. “Sometimes, he didn’t think, he only wondered; then before long
he would find himself doing this or that, like a bird finds itself building
a nest when it hasn’t actually been planning it.”(Walter 2) This reliance
on instinct reflects in his false idolization of animals. The distorted
picture of the “intelligent” moose, which always looked shocked because
nothing better could be expected and not amused because nothing was funny
towered over Enoch, as a manifestation of God, until Enoch removes the
frame, thus undressing him, rebuking him. His final act of idolization
comes when he steels the gorilla suit from the movie star.

“Once in the gorilla suit, Enoch feels himself endowed with the peculiar
physical and personal powers that will ensure his future success.” (Walter
2) His “wise blood” now embraces his instinctual animal religion and he,
like Hazel, finds a place with his maker. Comically, the same Jesus that
swung 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?” The
comparisons between Hazel and Enoch reveal two sides of humanity: one of
logic and one of instinct. Perhaps, though, neither suffices when dealing
with religion. O’Connor presents a world of self-blindness. This self-
blindness embodies itself in Mrs. Flood, Hazel’s landlord. After Haze
blinds himself, Mrs. Flood has a feeling that she has been tricked,
although she cannot say how or why. Her obvious blindness towards Hazel’s
truth becomes the all-encompassing theme of the novel. Neither Enoch’s
instinct nor Mrs. Flood’s self-blinding to the truth lead them to an
opening in the “long dark tunnel” which Haze easily finds once he corrects
his spiritual blindness. This spiritual blindness, which has flavored
twentieth century life, is not the result of alienation, but the cause of
it. Embracing God, while blinding yourself to mortality, enables the
alienation from religion to vanish.

Works Cited
Giannone, Richard. Flannery O’Connor and the Mystery of Love. Urabana: U of
Illinois, 1989.

McFarland, Dorothy. Flannery O’Connor. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing
Co, 1976.

O’Connor, Flannery. Collected Works. New York: The Library of America, 1988
Orvell, Miles. Flannery O’Connor: An Introduction. Jackson: UP Mississippi,
1991
Walter, Dorothy. Comments on O’Connor. 07 Dec.1999
http://www.flanneryo’connor/wiseblood.txt.