“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally.” - Flannery O'Connor, 19551
Christian fiction and art have been widespread throughout history among many cultures. However, American literature has had an abundance of writers whose works reflect a Christian worldview. Flannery O’Connor was one such author. Active in the 20th century, her work reflects the continual need for Christ in modern society undergoing great change.
Wise Blood Summary
The protagonist, Hazel Motes, after coming home from the war, finds that his family is no longer there. Having grown skeptical of religion and experiencing the horrors of WWII, Hazel decides to become a street preacher like his grandfather. However, unlike his grandfather, he spreads the tenets of Atheism and begins a long decline mentally and spiritually. This novel reflects the creativity Christian fiction authors can have in talking about complex matters.
Wise Blood Theme 1: Truth Is Truth
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” – 1 John 1:8, ESV
In our modern culture there has been the idea that all worldviews are acceptable. However, the novel shows that this is not the case. Hazel continues to ask if anyone has ever seen a soul throughout his preaching, showing a misconception to the idea of faith. This is contrasted when Enoch, a zookeeper, tells the strange preacher that Hazel has “wise blood,” a worldly knowledge that guides them throughout life.
Both concepts are unseen, but both are integral to a person’s worldview. Christians believe there is a soul and that the only way to save it is through accepting Christ as their savior. Alternatively, wise blood follows the belief that our actions are driven by a force not well known to us. Neither can be proven by our sight, but both are argued when discussing where we came from originally.
Truth is something everybody wants to know because everyone cannot be right. When accepting falsehoods, people are often led down destructive paths whether their intentions were good or not. It is important to hold onto Jesus’ teachings since the world is always trying to lead us astray. The truth will set you free and should be sought out. In Hazel’s case, the quest for truth ends up costing him more than he ever could have imagined.
Wise Blood Theme 2: Free Choices and Fate
Free will is apparent throughout the whole novel. God allows everyone free choice to follow or deny Him, so our relationship has more weight. Hazel has chosen the opposite direction in life, but fate seems to have a way of shaping him. Like his grandfather, Hazel is a preacher. While they do not share the same beliefs, the reader can see certain decisions have consequences. Even if those consequences don’t end up exactly as we thought.
We understand from the first few chapters that the book will be rather surreal and will ultimately not have a happy ending. The tone of the work is a dark comedy with all the strange occurrences that fall upon Hazel in his attempt to start an anti-religion ministry. O’Connor uses these bizarre events to highlight the unpredictability of life. These elements influence how the reader sees the protagonist’s choices.
While God has a plan for us, our free choices determine how painless the journey will be. Sometimes we miss out on opportunities that could benefit us due to our stubbornness or inability to let go of our pride.
Wise Blood Theme 3: Seeing and Belief
“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7, ESV
A common motif brought up throughout the novel is sight. Since the Ancient Greeks, sight has been used in fiction to show a character’s growth or even a revelation. In our previous installment on King Lear, sight was used to show how Lear was blinded by his ego to not see the motives of others. While in Oedipus Rex, the King blinds himself once finding out the truth he has been searching throughout the whole drama.
In Wise Blood, sight is used to illustrate Hazel’s spiritual journey. Asa Hawks is another street preacher who claims to have blinded himself as an act of faith. However, it is later revealed that he is nothing more than a conman and pretended all along. Hazel decides to blind himself to do what Hawks could never.
This leaves the conclusion of the book up to the audience to decide whether Hazel has returned to Christ. Was the act done out of realization his way was wrong or was it done to illustrate Hazel is truly lost? Though the book does imply that the “wise blood” was too powerful for him to deny the existence of God.
Wise Blood Theme 4: Achievement Versus Belonging
All the characters are outcasts in the novel. The characters are either eccentric or somewhat crazy. Despite these qualities, the characters want to either belong to something bigger than themselves or make money to achieve their goal for personal gain.
In arguably the strangest part of the novel, Enoch steals a gorilla costume in order to be viewed as more likeable. His strange logic comes from seeing a crowd of people at a theatre waiting to see the gorilla. In a twist of fate, Enoch becomes the gorilla once in the suit. However, he only scares those around him and finds himself alone overlooking the city.
Hazel’s journey could be a reaction to needing to belong as well. Having seen combat in a war and coming home to nobody there, he feels betrayed and tries rebelling against everything he was raised to believe. We see the world as an unlikeable place with injustices in the background of the story. Details such as these show that those who belong to the world will achieve little and find themselves unable to belong anywhere meaningful.
Grand Canyon University has been training Christians in ministry since its inception. If you are interested in pursuing a career in ministry, GCU's College of Theology has many degree programs, including Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry, Bachelor of Arts in Christian Studies and Master of Arts in Christian Ministry.
1 Retrieved from: The American Reader, 6 September (1955): Flannery O'Connor to Betty Hester, in September 2021
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.