Wise Blood Essay Summary

Wise Blood opens with Hazel Motes on a train to the city of Taulkinham. His bright blue suit and broad-brimmed hat make people mistake him for a “preacher,” but it soon becomes evident that although Hazel is consumed by the idea of redemption, he is not a Christian in any ordinary sense. For Hazel, Jesus is not a loving savior but rather “a wild ragged figure” who moves “from tree to tree in the back of his mind,” always beckoning him to step into the dark. This image had been planted by his grandfather, a circuit preacher who had often used his grandson as an object lesson, declaring that even for the unworthy child, Jesus would have died “ten million deaths” to redeem him. In the city, Hazel intends to demonstrate that he needs neither Jesus nor the sanguine redemption he provides.

In Taulkinham, Hazel meets Enoch Emery, an oafish young man who becomes an unwelcome companion. Together, they encounter a street evangelist, Asa Hawks, and his homely young daughter Sabbath Lily. Hazel is drawn to Hawks, whose name seems to mock the fact that he is blind. In an effort to demonstrate his rejection of both the necessity for redemption and the idea of sin that requires it, Hazel decides to seduce Sabbath, and on the following day, he seeks out Enoch to obtain Hawks’s address.

Enoch is driven instinctually by his “wise blood,” and he cannot surrender the information until Hazel agrees to accompany him in his daily routine, which culminates in the MVSEVM in a park in the heart of the city. Here, Enoch leads Hazel to a mummified dwarf, the central mystery in Enoch’s constricted world. Frustrated by this diversion, Hazel attacks Enoch and sets out alone to find Hawks.

That evening, Hazel locates the boarding house where Asa and Sabbath live, but before he confronts them, he decides to mimic Hawks’s ministry. Climbing on the hood of his Essex—a “rat-colored” rattletrap—Hazel preaches his first sermon for the Church Without Christ, “where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way.” Despite his blatant sacrilege, Hazel understands better than his auditors—who regard him with mild amusement if they regard him at all—the...

(The entire section is 912 words.)

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 30-page guide for “Wise Blood” by Flannery O’Connor includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 14 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Identity and The Fallen Nature of Humanity.

Plot Summary

Wise Blood is Flannery O’Connor’s first novel, and it is concerned with the journey of a young man named Hazel Motes.  At the beginning of the narrative, Motes is traveling to Taulkinham, Tennessee, after fighting for four years in World War II. Before his military service, Motes had always intended to become a preacher like his grandfather before him, but his war experiences cause Motes to become an anti-religious nihilist.

After arriving in Taulkinham, Motes encounters a young man named Enoch Emery, who immediately annoy s him. Motes also encounters the blind beggar preacher, Asa Hawks, and becomes completely obsessed with him. He follows Hawks around and harasses him about his beliefs; Hawks retorts that only Jesus can save Motes from the path he is traveling.

Motes buys a used Essex from a car dealership and the car becomes not only his home and his church, but his whole life. The car allows Motes to wander around Taulkinham and preach his vision of a new church, the Church Without Christ. Motes increasingly spends him time preaching his ideals of a new (nonexistent) Jesus, but no one in Taulkinham is interested in what he has to say.

One day, Enoch Emery takes Motes to the Taulkinham museum to show him an ancient corpse, but Motes doesn’t care for the exhibit and storms off in a fit of rage. Enoch eventually decides that he will steal the corpse for Motes to use as his “new jesus” in his Church Without Christ, though he has no idea why he is compelled to do this. Motes ends up throwing the corpse against a wall and destroying it.

One day, a man named Onnie Jay Holy walks by one of Motes’s preaching sessions and is greatly impressed. As a talented orator, he begins to gather a crowd and tell them that Motes is the prophet. Motes denounces Onnie Jay as a farce and the two have a violent confrontation. Onnie swears that he will find his own prophet and will put Motes’ church out of business, but Motes eventually runs over Onnie’s new prophet in his car, killing him.

Soon after this, a policeman pulls Motes’ Essex over because he doesn’t like Motes’ face. The officer pushes Motes’ car over a cliff, which not only destroys the car but all of Motes’ dreams as well. After this, Motes blinds himself and takes to walking around Taulkinham with glass and rocks stuffed in his shoes. He wanders out into an icy rain storm and is found several days later lying exhausted in a ditch. One of the officers who finds him whacks Motes in the head with his baton, and Motes dies shortly thereafter. As the novel closes, it’s not readily apparent whether Motes has attained redemption or not.

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